Three subspecies of the African wild ass (Equus africanus) are known: the extinct Atlas wild ass (E. a. atlanticus), the possibly extinct Nubian wild ass (E. a. africanus), and the Somali wild ass (E. a. somalicus). The Nubian wild ass and the Somali wild ass are registered under CITES I (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) and the IUCN Red List (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) considers them to be "critically endangered".
Status in the Wild
The Somali wild ass is highly endangered in the wild. The exact numbers of the remaining population are unknown as of now, but it can be assumed that over ninety percent of the Somali wild ass population have disappeared since 1970. Only a few hundred individual animals are still living in remote parts of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Domestic livestock competing for food and water considerably toughen survival for these wild asses. Illegal hunting and hybridisation with donkeys has furthered the dramatic decline.
An international studbook for the worldwide Somali wild ass population has been in existence since 1973. An official EEP (European Endangered Species Programme) was initiated in 1990. Both of these records are coordinated by Tierpark Berlin, Germany. Finally, in 2004, the Species Committee for the Somali Wild Ass was founded, with the Zoo Basel, Switzerland, as its coordinator. This board - in which the Werner Stamm Foundation is also represented - has been of enormous value to the preservation programmes of this species. New owners have since been found, some bachelor groups have been established and the genetic clarification of the zoo population is being tackled. At the end of 2009 there were 183 animals living in 34 recognised institutions worldwide, 78 stallions and 105 mares. Additionally, there are three (2.1) animals living at Hai-Bar in Israel.
Conservation and Educational Value
Being the only surviving wild ass representative of Africa, the Somali wild ass is of very high conservational, taxonomic and cultural value. It is the most threatened of all wild equids and without protective conservation actions the Somali wild ass will become extinct. Additionally, the African wild ass is of high cultural value, as it is considered the ancestor of the present-day donkey.
EAZA Equid TAG (Taxon Advisory Group) Recommendations
The EEP, the European Endangered Species Programme, needs to be intensified and the zoo populations must be expanded in order to ensure the animals' genetic viability and health. There is an urgent call for new owners to initiate further breeding or bachelor groups. As the genetic basis for founder animals is so narrow, cautious and consistent genetic management (which includes all the owners of this species worldwide) is called for.
The Somali Wild Ass and the Werner Stamm Foundation
The Werner Stamm Foundation is one of the leading institutions in terms of breeding the Somali wild ass and has always dedicated its resources and knowledge to the objectives formulated by EAZA Equid TAG. In 1975 and 1977 respectively, the first two animals were placed in our enclosures, with the first birth following in 1979. In the 32 years between 1979 and 2010, 67 Somali wild asses were born, 37 mares and 30 stallions. During the last ten years, the breeding group has been expanded and there has been a strong emphasis on breeding. Presently (i.e. since summer 2010), there are 17 Somali wild asses in our institution, 4 stallions and 13 mares, with our breeding group consisting of one stallion and 9 mares aged from 4 to 15. During the last three years, no less than 15 foals (5 males and 10 females!) were born - a mare's gestation period is about thirteen months. Today, the Werner Stamm Foundation still contributes significantly to both the extension and the expansion of this species' zoo population.