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Five Wild Ass Foals Boost Endangered Species

Somali wild ass foal-9_photo by Robin Winkelman Saint Louis Zoo_8-27-13_large

A record five Somali Wild Ass foals were born between August 19 and October 15 at the Saint Louis Zoo, making a significant addition to the zoo population of these critically endangered animals. Only 51 Somali Wild Asses live in zoos, with 11 at the Saint Louis Zoo.

Photo Credit: Robin Winkelman/Saint Louis Zoo


Meet the foals:

  • A male named Hirizi (Swahili for charm or amulet) weighed 48 pounds at birth.
  • A female named Farah (which means joy or cheerfulness) weighed 58 pounds at birth.
  • A female named Luana (which means enjoyment) weighed 53 pounds at birth.
  • A male named Tristan (which means clever one) 66.5 pounds at birth.
  • A male named Rebel weighed 52 pounds at birth.

The father of all five foals is Abai, who came from Switzerland’s Basel Zoo in 2005. Abai has had a total of nine offspring born at the Saint Louis Zoo.

The Somali Wild Ass is a critically endangered member of the Horse family, with only 1,000 individuals surviving in desert areas of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. An expanding human population, subsistence hunting, and poitical unrest in the region threaten the Somali Wild Ass’s future.

The youngsters have the same markings as their parents – gray body, white belly, and horizontal black stripes on the legs, similar to Zebras.

The Somali Wild Ass is the smallest of all wild Horses, Asses and Zebras. Adults stand about four feet tall at the shoulder and weigh about 600 pounds. Long, narrow hooves—the narrowest of any wild horse -- enable the animals to be swift and surefooted in their rough, rocky habitat.

See more photos below the fold.

Somali wild ass foal-12_photo by Robin Winkelman Saint Louis Zoo_9-28-13_large

These Asses can go without water longer than other Wild Asses, drinking only once every two or three days. They have large ears, which help them keep cool. Loud vocalizations allow members of a herd to keep in touch over broad expanses of desert.

Saint Louis Zoo keepers and researchers have collaborated with Washington University in St. Louis on a social and reproductive behavior project that compares Somali Wild Asses and their cousins from Kenya and Ethiopia, the endangered Grevy’s Zebras.  In addition, zoo keepers and researchers are collecting data about the asses and taking photos of the herd so field researchers can use this data.

The study began eight years ago, when the Somali Wild Asses arrived at the zoo. At that time, there were no published studies about their reproductive behavior or physiology. The zoo’s Endocrinology Lab monitors the reproductive status and endocrine effects of social interactions in Zebra and Somali Wild Ass herds.  Data from the lab’s results, combined with daily behavioral observations, help staff better understand the behavior of these endangered equids.

The Saint Louis Zoo and its WildCare Institute Center for Conservation in the Horn of Africa has supported field research and conservation programs to study and preserve the rare African Wild Ass and its arid habitat. In partnership with other conservation organizations, the Zoo has supported programs in both Ethiopia and Eritrea.  The zoo also participates in the Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.