African wild asses or African wild donkey (Equus africanus) are
a wild member of the horse family, Equidae. African wild asses are the ancestor
of the domestic donkey.
They live in the deserts and other arid areas of the Horn of
Africa, in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. They formerly had a wider range north
and west into Sudan, Egypt, and Libya. Their 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.
African wild asses are well suited to life in a desert or
semi-desert 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.
They are primarily active in the cooler hours between late
afternoon and early morning – they seek shade and shelter among the rocky
hills during the day.
African Wild asses can run swiftly, almost as fast as a
horse. On the flat, they have been recorded reaching speeds of 70 km/h (43
mph). They are very agile and nimble-footed, capable of moving quickly across
boulder fields and in the mountains. In keeping with these feats, its soles are
particularly hard and its hooves grow very quickly.
Mature males defend large territories around 23 square kilometers,
marking them with dung heaps - an essential marker in the flat, monotonous
terrain. Due to the size of these ranges, the dominant male cannot exclude
other males. Rather, intruders are tolerated - recognized and treated as
subordinates, and kept as far away as possible from any of the resident
females. In the presence of estrous females, the males bray loudly. These
animals live in loose herds of up to fifty individuals.
In the wild, breeding of African wild ass occurs in wet
season. Gestation period lasts for 11 to 12 months, given birth one foal from
October to February. The foals weans for 6 to 8 month after birth, reaching
sexual maturity 2 years after birth. Their lifespan is up to 40 years in
Unlike most hoofed mammals, their tendency is to not flee
right away from a potentially dangerous situation, but to investigate first
before deciding what to do. When they need to, they can defend themselves with
kicks from both their front and hind legs.
They are listed by IUCN as critically
endangered. There are fewer than 1000 individuals, and possibly considerably
less, remaining in the wild. It is the world's most endangered equine.