A male Somali wild ass foal named Tobias was born at the Saint Louis Zoo on July 30 to mother Tukia, who came to St. Louis from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2005, and father Hirizi, who was born at the Saint Louis Zoo in 2013. Tobias weighed 51 pounds at birth and can now be seen daily, weather permitting, with his mother and two adult females in their habitat at the Red Rocks area of the Zoo.
A video taken Aug. 14 shows the young foal frolicking in his enclosure with his mother and the others. See the video online on the Saint Louis Zoo’s YouTube channel, stlzootube.
The Somali wild ass, a subspecies of the African wild ass, is a critically endangered member of the horse family. They are found in small numbers in desert areas of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa.
There are currently only 68 Somali wild asses in North American zoos, with seven at the Saint Louis Zoo. The fact that only four other zoos in North America have bred this species makes this little foal an important addition.
The birth of this new foal is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP), a program responsible for maintaining a genetically healthy population of Somali wild asses in North American zoos.
The Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Center for Conservation in the Horn of Africa, in partnership with other conservation organizations, supports field research and conservation programs to study and preserve the rare African wild ass and its arid habitat.
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.
One of the few free zoos in the nation, the Saint Louis Zoo attracts 3 million visitors a year and is the most-visited attraction in the region. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Saint Louis Zoo is part of an elite group of institutions that meet the highest standards in animal care as well as provide fun, safe and educational family experiences.
The Saint Louis Zoo and the other AZA-accredited institutions collectively dedicate millions of dollars annually to support scientific research, conservation and education programs. For more information, visit stlzoo.org.