The upper parts of the African wild ass are buff-gray in summer and iron-gray in winter; the mane is sparse but erect; and it has variable transverse leg stripes. It has a length of about 2 m (6.5') and weighs about 200 kg (440 lb). The African wild ass is found mostly in hilly and stony deserts, and arid to semi-arid bushlands and grasslands. It appears primarily to be a grazer and to eat mainly grasses. Although the African wild ass is physiologically well adapted to life in the desert, it still needs access to surface water. During aerial surveys in the Danakil Desert of Ethiopia, most African wild asses were observed within 30 km (20 mi) of known water sources. A lactating female needs to drink every day. The African wild ass is crepuscular and nocturnal. It will often retreat into rocky hills and seek shade during the day. It is most active when the weather is cooler.
The African wild ass lives in groups that are mostly temporary and typically composed of fewer than 5 individuals. The groups are small because the amount of forage in any given area of the African wild ass' habitat is not adequate to support larger groups. The only stable groups are composed of a female and her offspring. Adult males are frequently solitary, but they sometimes associate with other males. Some adult males are territorial, defending a territory that contains the resources that females require (typically water and forage). Other males are tolerated within the territory's boundaries, but the resident male retains exclusive access to mate with receptive females that enter the territory. Only territorial males have been observed mating with females that are capable of breeding.
The African wild ass was probably once widespread from the Moroccan Atlas across Saharan and possibly Sahelian Africa to the Sudanese and Somalian arid zones and possibly the Arabian Peninsula. It was found in regions with a brief annual rainfall of 100 - 200 mm (4 - 8"). Currently, the African wild ass occurs only in northeast Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. Evidence suggests that African wild asses in Somalia declined by 50% in the 1980s. Large declines in the wild asses within Ethiopia have been documented as well. Only Eritrea has a small but stable African wild ass population. The major threats to the survival of the African wild ass are: hunting the wild ass for food and medicinal purposes, potential competition with livestock for forage and water, and interbreeding with the domestic donkey.
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