Did you know that “ass” can be used as a synonym for “donkey”? In the Netherlands, this is not common knowledge, and was therefore also unknown to me.
Film quotes like “you are such an ass” lost a bit of their weight to me, but it also gave me a good laugh. I came to this realisation during a group study session at university: then I found out that a species with the name “African wild ass” exists, and I lost it.

When I explained my findings to the others at the table, it turned out I was not the only one. None of us could interpret it any differently than “the African wild butt”. After a short while - filled with wordplay and the realisation that the African wild ass is a threatened species, we joked that we should start an initiative to save these asses.
Amy and Sam then told us about their idea of creating a humorous field guide. Little did I know that we would really publish the guide… but here we are.


Where's that ass?

Worldwide, there are only 23-200 of these wild asses left. This is only 1 ass per 100 square kilometres in its previous habitat! It doesn’t end there: due to our current lifestyle, the number of wild asses is decreasing every day. The current estimation of population decline is a shocking 94% since 1970.

Currently, most of the wild asses can be found near the Red Sea in the Denkelia Desert of Eritrea.


Assess by asses

When studying living beings it is key to distinguish their species. Different animals do different things, respond in different ways and interact in different ways with their environment. By recognizing species, biologists are able to study them one by one and answer questions like: "What makes a lion so cool?", "When is a hippo too fat?" and "why do mosquitoes exist?".

So, identifying species is extremely helpful, but it can be harder than it seems. Normally species are distinguished by their physical characters, which works well on paper, but in the field a lot of animals are easily scared and thus run of, leaving you unable to see anything but their ass. Sadly relevant characters are often let out of field guides. Well, at least until now.

Therefore, during your next safari, sit back, enjoy the view and use this guide. Because now you'll know the answer to "To which species belongs this ass?".

Become an ass expert

It’s not surprising that these asses are shaking with fear, making them more wild than ever. The only way to calm them down is fitting conservation. But, to do this, we need to recognize this ass, know this ass, maybe even stare at it frantically…

Since the African wild ass is thought to be one of the ancestors of the domestic ass, it is no wonder that the two look alike. Currently, there are two extant subspecies accepted: the Nubian wild ass and the Somali wild ass. However, Groves (2002) lists a third, unnamed subspecies from the Sahara. Still, these may not have been true wild asses.

The main characteristic these species share, seem to be the legs supporting those asses. The way they firmly stand on them and the stripes adorning them truely make them gracious.

If you feel like you need more training on determining species by their asses, then you may want to try our determination key for East African wildlife.

They didn't ask for this

    If we want to save this species, we’ll have to work our asses off.
    The main threats to the asses are water availability and the fact that people hunt them for food and medicinal purposes. Management will thus have to focus on water management and education on sustainability of food sources.

    Originally, we wanted to aid conservation efforts aiming to save this species. Sadly, most of its habitat lies in war zones, rendering most current efforts useless. We therefore chose to change direction and focus our support toward EDGE of Existence. We also started the Save That Ass, which aims to raise money for conservation efforts whilst educating people on the natural world which we are all part of.

    Still, the African wild ass has a special place in our hearts, and will therefore make a guest appearance in our field guide.

  • What we do