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Animal Data > Somali Wild Ass

(Equus asinus somalicus)

Status Distribution Sexually Mature
Critically Endangered Ethiopia and Somalia Females 2-4-years, males 5 years
Number of Young Gestation Life Span
1 365 days 20 years

The Somali wild ass is a subspecies of the African wild ass, which used to be distributed right across northern Africa. One subspecies is now extinct and the remaining two, the Nubian and Somali wild ass, are critically endangered.

The Somali wild ass is now restricted to parts of the Danakil Desert in Ethiopia and the Las 'Anod region of Somalia. It is an extremely hardly breed, surviving on desert plains and rough mountain terrain, where water is scarce and the only food may be thorny bushes and tough grass. 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 70km/h (43mph). In keeping with these feats, its soles are particularly hard and its hooves grow very quickly.

The Somali wild ass is usually found in herds of 10 to 15, led by a senior mare, but these groups are not permanent and individuals come and go. Stallions defend large territories (up to 20kmĀ²) which are marked by dung piles. At night, large herds tend to gather in areas of good grazing, while by day they separate and climb to mountain retreats. They have occasionally been observed standing on their hind legs to reach food high in the branches of trees.

Mares give birth close to the herd and the foal can stand and follow its mother within an hour of being born. The foal grows very quickly and is weaned at 4 months, though will still suckle occasionally up to the age of two.

The Somali wild ass is suffering from the three main threats: hunting, loss of habitat and competition for resources. Its domain is a drought-stricken war zone, its flesh is eaten in the belief that it cures hepatitis and it has to complete with domestic livestock for food and water. Urgent action is needed if the breed is to be saved from extinction.

Main Features

Arguably the most beautiful of all asses. Blue-grey body, lighter underneath. Pale legs with distinct black stripes.Dark upright mane and dark tail tassel. Fine stripe down back, but no stripe across the shoulders. Very large ears.

In Captivity

Somali wild ass are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. They are highly temperamental and the stallion has to be kept separate from the mares the majority of the time, to prevent him for harming them. Marwell's pair are part of an international breeding programme. The first ever British born Somali wild ass was born at Marwell in 1996 with another 9 being born over the following 10 years.

In addition to grazing in large paddocks, they receive a diet of pony nuts and hay. For part of the year they are kept on an area of hard ground next to their indoor accommodation called a 'hard standing', to wear down their fast growing hooves.

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