The donkey’s ancestor, African Wild Asses once lived all over North Africa, but now they are critically endangered.
Donkeys aplenty can be found roaming fields and mountains all over Africa, but their ancestor the African Wild Ass is critically endangered. Equus africanus used to be found as far north as Morocco’s Atlas Mountains and as far east as the Arabian peninsular, but now only a few hundred of them are left in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan. Domesticated about 6,000 years ago, wild asses adapted extraordinary tools for surviving in harsh desert climates, but now they are hunted for meat and medicine.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) added Equus africanus to their list of critically endangered species in 2010. It is believed that 10 African wild asses still remain in Somalia and 160 in Ethiopia, where they are commonly hunted for meat and medicine.
In Eritrea it appears that the species is actually thriving, with 400 left, although the 1500 thought to be in Sudan are most likely feral.
Wild asses can survive the loss of up to 30% of its weight in water even though it never usually strays more than 30 km from the nearest water hole. They can then re-hydrate within 2 to 5 minutes of drinking water.
Its males are solitary and lasting bonds, aside from that between mothers and their offspring, have not been recorded. Instead, wild asses form temporary relationships in groups of 5 or less, probably to limit competition for scarce water resources.
A regular guest in biblical accounts
The gestation period for wild asses is one year. Females typically produce one foal every other year, which may contribute to the species’ vulnerability.
Other factors contributing to their near-extinction include interbreeding with domestic animals and competition with livestock for grazing, as well as limited access to water supplies as a result of new agricultural developments.
A regular guest in biblical accounts, wild asses are protected by law in Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia, but in these climatically and politically unstable countries, wildlife conservation is a low priority.
image via wikicommons
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