AboutZoos, Since 2008


Mul­ti­ple births of rare Somali wild asses at Saint Louis Zoo

pub­lished 19 Novem­ber 2013 | mod­i­fied 03 Novem­ber 2014

A record five Somali wild ass foals were born between 19 August and 15 Octo­ber at the Saint Louis Zoo. This beau­ti­ful African wild ass is extremely rare in zoos and in the wild. The births are a first for two of the adult female wild asses.

Somali wildass foal STLZoo

These are the foals recorded since August:

A male named Hirizi (Swahili for charm or amulet) was born to 6-​year-​old Haiba, a first-​time mother who came from Europe (Werner Stamm Foun­da­tion) to the Saint Louis Zoo. Hirizi weighed 21,7 kg at birth.

A female named Farah (which means joy or cheer­ful­ness) was born to 9-​year-​old Fataki, a female that came from San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2005. Farah weighed 26,3 kg at birth.

A female named Luana (which means enjoy­ment) was born to 4-​year-​old Luuli, another first-​time mother, also from San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Luuli came to the Saint Louis Zoo in 2010. Luana weighed 24 kg at birth.

A male named Tris­tan (which means clever one) was born to 9-​year-​old Tukia, another female from San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Tris­tan weighed 30 kg at birth.

A male named Rebel was born to 9-​year-​old Lib­erty, a female that came from Zoo Miami in 2012. Rebel weighed 23,5 kg at birth.

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

There are cur­rently only 51 Somali wild asses in North Amer­ica, with 11 at the Saint Louis Zoo. The fact that only three other zoos in North Amer­ica have bred this species makes these lit­tle foals impor­tant additions.

Somali Wild Ass
The Somali wild ass (Equus africanus soma­lien­sis) is a sub­species of the African wild ass (Equus africanus), and are listed as Crit­i­cally Endan­gered accord­ing the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species. This mem­ber of the horse fam­ily is found in small num­bers in desert areas of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Soma­lia. Prob­a­bly less than 1,000 exist in north­east­ern Africa.

The Somali wild ass is the small­est of all wild horses, asses and zebras. The young­sters have the beau­ti­ful mark­ings of their par­ents — gray body, white belly and hor­i­zon­tal black stripes on their legs, sim­i­lar to zebras. Adults stand about four feet tall at the shoul­der and weighs about 270 kg. It has long, nar­row hooves — the nar­row­est of any wild horse. This unique design allows the ani­mals to be swift and sure­footed in their rough, rocky habi­tat.

They can go with­out water longer than other wild asses, but they still need to drink at least once every two or three days. They have large ears, which help them hear and keep cool. They have loud voices to keep in touch over broad expanses of desert.

African wild asses face an extremely high risk of extinc­tion in the wild, for a num­ber of rea­sons. Some local peo­ple hunt the asses for food and for use in tra­di­tional med­i­cine. Hunt­ing has taken a greater toll in recent years, as polit­i­cal unrest in the area has allowed bet­ter access to auto­matic weapons.

Other prob­lems they face are brought about by increas­ing human pop­u­la­tions and the expan­sion of agri­cul­ture. More and more, wild asses are com­pet­ing with domes­tic live­stock for lim­ited graz­ing grounds and water sources, and as the wild and domes­tic ani­mals come into con­tact, there is more and more inter­breed­ing — another seri­ous threat to wild asses.

Research on Repro­duc­tive Behav­iour (ex-​situ research)

The Zoo’s keep­ers and researchers have col­lab­o­rated with Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in St. Louis on a social and repro­duc­tive behav­iour project that com­pares both the 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 ani­mals arrived at the Zoo. There were no pub­lished stud­ies about their repro­duc­tive behav­iour or phys­i­ol­ogy. Even reports from the wild were lim­ited to pop­u­la­tion sur­veys and chance sight­ings. The goal for the research pro­gram has been to under­stand as much about these ani­mals as pos­si­ble to enhance the chances for suc­cess­ful breed­ing and to be able to pro­vide the best pos­si­ble care, as well as to help con­ser­va­tion­ists study­ing this species in Africa.

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 behav­ioural obser­va­tions, help Zoo staff bet­ter under­stand the behav­iour of these endan­gered equids, help­ing them make deci­sions about their care. In addi­tion, the Zoo’s endocrinol­ogy lab played a role in the suc­cess­ful deliv­ery of the five Somali wild asses by diag­nos­ing the preg­nan­cies. Only a hand­ful of zoos across the coun­try have endocrinol­ogy lab­o­ra­to­ries. As a ser­vice to the zoo com­mu­nity, the Saint Louis Zoo’s Endocrinol­ogy lab analy­ses sam­ples from ani­mals at zoos across the nation.

Zoo Sup­ports Field Research (in-​situ research)

The Saint Louis Zoo and its Wild­Care Insti­tute Cen­ter for Con­ser­va­tion in the Horn of Africa has sup­ported field research and con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes to study and pre­serve the rare African wild ass and its arid habi­tat. In part­ner­ship with other con­ser­va­tion organ­i­sa­tions, the Zoo has sup­ported pro­grammes in both Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The Saint Louis Zoo par­tic­i­pates in the Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquar­i­ums (AZA) coop­er­a­tive breed­ing pro­gram for the Somali wild ass. The Zoo is one of seven North Amer­i­can par­tic­i­pat­ing insti­tu­tions; the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, White Oak Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter, Zoo Miami, Den­ver Zoo, Disney’s Ani­mal King­dom and the Dal­las Zoo are the other part­ners. Tim Their, the Zoo­log­i­cal Man­ager of the Ante­lope Area at Saint Louis Zoo, serves as the pro­gram cham­pion for AZA’s North Amer­i­can Regional Stud­book and Pop­u­la­tion Man­age­ment Pro­gram for this species.

(Source: Saint Louis Zoo press release, 07.11.2013)

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