The African wild ass is a very robust animal with a sturdy built. This mammal is perfectly adapted to its desert habitat. The African wild ass can survive immense water loss of as much as 30% of its body weight and restore this huge loss within only 2-5 minutes when drinking water. The African wild ass was domesticated as early as 6,000 years ago. This animal is mentioned in the Bible a number of times. In addition, the domestic donkey is known to originate from this species.
The original range of this species used to cover a rather large area throughout northern Africa, from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to Sudan and Somalia. Their current range has greatly reduced. Nowadays, the African wild ass occurs in parts of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, but is extinct in Sudan and Egypt. Within this territory, scattered populations of the African wild asses are found in the hill and stony deserts, semi-arid bushlands as well as grasslands with the presence of surface water.
These animals live in a very flexible social system, frequently gathering in temporary groups consist of up to 50 individuals and may be either single-sex or mixed. Adult males of this species control large home ranges, typically placed near constant sources of water, which provide access to females that pass through their territories. Meanwhile, other males usually join bachelor groups. Females and their young form separate groups. They can live without water for as long as a few days. These mammals spend the hottest part of the day in shelters. They are most active at dusk and dawn when it’s cool. Typical forms of communication are vocalizations, visual signals, smells, and physical contact. The African wild asses perceive their environment through acute hearing as well as developed senses of vision and smell.
The African wild asses have a polygynous mating system, where each territorial male mates with numerous females. These animals breed during the wet season. Females of this species are able to produce offspring after 3-4 years old. They yield young every year, from October to February. A single baby is born after about 1 year of gestation.
Over the centuries, these animals have been captured in the wild to be domesticated. They have also suffered from interbreeding with domestic animals. The African wild ass is now hunted in Ethiopia and Somalia both for food and traditional medicine. Due to the recent civil unrest in these two countries, the number of weapons in circulation has immensely increased, which can negatively impact the local population of African wild asses. These mammals also compete for food with domestic livestock. Additionally, they are threatened by agricultural development, reducing required amount of suitable water supplies.
As reported by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) resource, the total population size of this species is less than 570 individuals, 400 of which live in Eritrea, less than 160 in Ethiopia, and less than 10 in Somalia. Additionally, Sudan is believed to hold a relatively large population of 1,500 individuals, which may be feral. According to the IUCN Red List, the total number of African wild asses in Eritrea and Ethiopia may be as many as 600 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) and its numbers continue to decrease.