The African wild ass (Equus africanus) or African wild donkey is a wild member of the horse family, Equidae. This species is thought to be the ancestor of the domestic donkey (Equus asinus), which is sometimes placed within the same species. They live in the deserts and other arid areas of the Horn of Africa, in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. It formerly had a wider range north and west into Sudan, Egypt, and Libya. It is Critically Endangered, with about 570 individuals existing in the wild.
The African wild ass is about 1.2 metres (4 ft) tall and weighs approximately 250 kilograms (600 lb). The short, smooth coat is a light grey to fawn colour, fading quickly to white on the undersides and legs. There is a slender, dark dorsal stripe in all subspecies, while in the Nubian wild ass (E. a. africanus), as well as the domestic donkey, there is a stripe across the shoulder. The legs of the Somali wild ass (E. a. somaliensis) are horizontally striped with black, resembling those of a zebra. On the nape of the neck, there is a stiff, upright mane, the hairs of which are tipped with black. The ears are large with black margins. The tail terminates with a black brush. The hooves are slender and approximately of the diameter as the legs.
Different authors consider the African wild ass and the domesticated donkey one or two species; either view is technically legitimate, though the former is phylogenetically more accurate. However, the American Society of Mammalogists classifies the donkey as a distinct species, as it does with almost all domestic mammals.
The species name for the African wild ass is sometimes given as asinus, from the domestic donkey, whose specific name is older and usually would have priority. But this usage is erroneous since the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature has conserved the name Equus africanus in Opinion 2027. This was done to prevent the confusing situation of the phylogenetic ancestor being taxonomically included in its descendant.
The first published name for the African wild ass, Asinus africanus, Fitzinger, 1858, is a nomen nudum. The name Equus taeniopus von Heuglin, 1861 is rejected as indeterminable, as it is based on an animal that cannot be identified and may have been a hybrid between a domestic donkey and a Somali wild ass; the type has not been preserved. The first available name thus becomes Asinus africanus von Heuglin & Fitzinger, 1866. A lectotype is designated: a skull of an adult female collected by von Heuglin near Atbarah River, Sudan, and present in the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, MNS 32026. The two subspecies recognized:
African wild asses are well suited to life in a desert or semidesert environment. They have tough digestive systems, which can break down desert vegetation and extract moisture from food efficiently. They can also go without water for a fairly long time. Their large ears give them an excellent sense of hearing and help in cooling.Because of the sparse vegetation in their environment wild asses live somewhat separated from each other (except for mothers and young), unlike the tightly grouped herds of wild horses. They have very loud voices, which can be heard for over 3 km (1.9 mi), which helps them to keep in contact with other asses over the wide spaces of the desert.
The African wild ass is primarily active in the cooler hours between late afternoon and early morning, seeking shade and shelter amongst the rocky hills during the day. The Somali wild ass is also very agile and nimble-footed, capable of moving quickly across boulder fields and in the mountains. On the flat, it has been recorded reaching speeds of 70 km/h (43 mph). In keeping with these feats, its soles are particularly hard and its hooves grow very quickly.
In the wild, African wild ass breeding occurs during the wet season. The gestation period lasts for 11 to 12 months, and one foal is born during the period from October to February. The foal weans for 6 to 8 months after birth, reaching sexual maturity at the age of 2 years. Lifespan is up to 40 years in captivity.
The African wild asses' diet consists of grasses, bark, and leaves. Despite being primarily adapted for living in an arid climate, they are dependent on water, and when not receiving the needed moisture from vegetation, they must drink at least once every three days. However, they can survive on a surprisingly small amount of liquid, and have been reported to drink salty or brackish water.
Though the species itself is under no threat of extinction, due to abundant domestic stock (donkeys and burros), the two extant wild subspecies are both listed as critically endangered. African wild asses have been captured for domestication for centuries and this, along with interbreeding between wild and domestic animals, has caused a distinct decline in population numbers. There are now only a few hundred individuals left in the wild. These animals are also hunted for food and for traditional medicine in both Ethiopia and Somalia. Competition with domestic livestock for grazing, and restricted access to water supplies caused by agricultural developments, pose further threats to the survival of this species. The African wild ass is legally protected in the countries where it is currently found, although these measures often prove difficult to enforce. A protected population of the Somali wild ass exists in the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve in Israel, to the north of Eilat. This reserve was established in 1968 with the view to bolster populations of endangered desert species. Populations of horses and asses are fairly resilient and, if the species is properly protected, it may well recover from its current low.
There are about 150 individual Somali wild asses living in zoos around the globe, of which 36 were born at Zoo Basel, where this species' breeding program started with Basel's first Somali wild asses in 1970 and the first birth in 1972.
Zoo Basel manages the European studbook for the Somali wild ass and coordinates the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP). All European wild donkeys are either descendants of the original group at Zoo Basel or of 12 others that came from the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve in Israel in 1972.
The Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur), also called the Indian onager or, in the local Gujarati language, Ghudkhur and Khur, is a subspecies of the onager native to South Asia.
It is currently listed as Near Threatened by IUCN. The previous census in 2009 estimated a population of 4,038 Indian wild asses. However, the population was still growing. In December 2014, the population was estimated at 4,451 individuals. As of 2015,[update] the current Indian wild ass population has increased to around 4800 individuals in and outside of the Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary of India. The population has risen by 37% since 2014, reveals data released by the Gujarat forest department. The population has reached 6,082, according to the census conducted in March 2020.
The Indian wild ass, as with most other Asian wild ass subspecies, is quite different from the African wild ass species. The coat is usually sandy, but varies from reddish grey, fawn, to pale chestnut. The animal possesses an erect, dark mane which runs from the back of the head and along the neck. The mane is then followed by a dark brown stripe running along the back, to the root of the tail.
The Indian wild ass's range once extended from western India, southern Pakistan, i.e. provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan, Afghanistan, and south-eastern Iran. Today, its last refuge lies in the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary, Little Rann of Kutch and its surrounding areas of the Great Rann of Kutch in the Gujarat state of India. The animal, however, is also seen in the districts of Surendranagar, Banaskantha, Mehsana, and other Kutch districts. Saline deserts (rann), arid grasslands and shrublands are its preferred environments.
The Indian wild ass population has been increasing in numbers and extending its range from Little Rann of Kutch, where the world's last population of this subspecies had got confined to in recent years, and has gradually started moving out and colonizing the Greater Rann of Kutch, also extending into the neighboring Indian State of Rajasthan in the bordering villages in Jalore district bordering the Rann of Kutch of Gujarat and Khejariali and its neighbourhood where a 60 km2 area was transferred to the Rajasthan Forest Department by the revenue authorities in 2007. At this place Rebaris (camel and sheep breeders) live in the Prosopis juliflora jungles in the company of chinkaras, striped hyenas, red foxes, desert cats and Indian wolves.
It is unknown how the Indian wild ass disappeared from its former haunts in parts of western India and Pakistan, since the animal was never a hunting target of Indian Maharajas and colonial British officials of the British Raj. However, India's Mughal Emperors and noblemen from the time took great pleasure in hunting it with Emperor Jahangir in his book Tuzk-e-Jahangiri. In an illustrated copy that has survived of Akbarnama, the book of Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great there is an illustration of Akbar on an Indian wild ass shoot with several of them having been shot by him.
From 1958-1960, the wild ass became a victim of a disease known as surra, caused by Trypanosoma evansi and transmitted by flies, which caused a dramatic decline of its population in India. In November and December 1961, the wild ass population was reduced to just 870 after the outbreak of South African Horse Sickness.
In the last century, the Indian wild ass lived all over the dry regions of northwestern India and western Pakistan including Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Sind and Baluchistan. Today, it survives only in the Little Rann, and a few stray towards the Great Rann of Kutch with some reaching bordering villages in the Jalore district of the Indian State of Rajasthan. 041b061a72