African wild ass (Equus africanus)

Somali wild ass
IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered CRITICALLY

Top facts

  • The African wild ass is the ancestor of the domestic donkey.
  • There are only a few hundered African wild ass left in the wild.
  • The African wild ass can survive water loss of up to 30% of its body weight and drink enough water to replace it in under 5 minutes.
  • Interbreeding with the domestic donkey is a serious threat to the African wild ass.
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African wild ass fact file

African wild ass description

GenusEquus (1)

The African wild ass (Equus africanus) is the ancestor of the domestic donkey (4), and has a similar stocky body shape. The short, smooth coat is a light grey to fawn colour, fading to white on the undersides and legs (2). Both subspecies have a dark stripe across their back and the Somali wild ass (E.a.somalicus) also has horizontally striped legs like those of a zebra (2). The ears are large and bordered by black whilst the thick, upright mane is also black at the tip (2).

Equus asinus.
Ane Sauvage D'Afrique.
Asno Salvaje De Africa.
Length: 200 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 125-145 cm (2)
275 kg (2)

African wild ass biology

African wild asses have a fluid social arrangement and often form temporary aggregations of one or both sexes, which last no more than a few months and can contain as many as 50 individuals (4). Mature males however, tend to occupy large territories that are often situated around a water supply; these allow them to attain access to any receptive females passing through the area (5). Other males form bachelor groups and females may group with other females or with their own offspring. Mares tend to produce one foal every two years and births occur during the wet season (4).

Active in the cool of dawn and dusk, African wild asses seek shade in the heat of the day and are able to survive without water for a few days at a time (2). These grazers eat a variety of grasses and herbs, and in captivity have been known to live for 40 years (4).


African wild ass range

Previously found across northern Africa, from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to Sudan and Somalia (4). Today, the African wild ass is restricted to scattered populations in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia and is regionally extinct in Egypt and Sudan (1).


African wild ass habitat

The African wild ass inhabits arid areas such as hill and stony deserts, semi-arid bushlands and grasslands, where there is access to surface water (2).


African wild ass status

The African wild ass is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3). Subspecies: Nubian wild ass (E. a. africanus) and the Somali wild ass (E. a. somalicus) are both classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


African wild ass threats

African wild asses have been captured for domestication for centuries and this, together with interbreeding between wild and domestic animals, has caused a distinct decline in population numbers (4). There are now only a few hundred individuals left in the wild (4) and the species is under threat of extinction. These animals are hunted for food and for traditional medicine in both Ethiopia and Somalia, where recent civil unrest has led to an increased number of weapons in circulation. 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 (4).


African wild ass conservation

The African wild ass is legally protected in the countries within which it is currently found (4), although these measures often prove difficult to enforce. More effective protection measures need to be adopted if the status of this species is to improve. A protected population of the Somali wild ass exists in the Yotvata Hai-Bar (Wildlife Preserve) Nature Reserve in Israel, to the north of Elat (6). This reserve was established in 1968 with the view to bolster populations of endangered desert species (7). Populations of horses and asses are fairly resilient, and if the species is properly protected it may well recover from its current low (5).

To learn more about a Whitley Award-winning conservation project for this species, click here.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

Learn about efforts to conserve the African wild ass:



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Cross-breeding with a different species or subspecies.
A different race of a species, which is geographically separated from other populations of that species.
Area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2008)
  2. Ultimate Ungulate (March, 2008)
  3. CITES (March, 2008)
  4. Animal Info (July, 2002)
  5. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Hai-Bar (Wildlife Preserve) Nature Reserve (August, 2002)
  7. The Red Sea Desert (March, 2008)

Image credit

Somali wild ass  
Somali wild ass

© Åke Lindau /

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