Horse expertise helps save rare Somali wild ass foal

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Mwana and Salia, who was born on November 13.
Mwana and Salia, who was born on November 13. © Basel Zoo

Equine expertise has helped ensure the survival of a newborn Somali wild ass filly foal whose mum rejected her at a Swiss zoo.

In the wild, the Somali wild ass is threatened with extinction, and they are one of the rarest species of mammal on the planet.

Basel Zoo welcomed the youngster, named Salia, on November 13, but her mum, Mwana, showed no interest in her following the birth, zoo staff said.

This led to the first-time mother driving the foal away whenever she tried to drink. Without intervention, Salia’s chances of survival were poor.

The filly foal is genetically very important and valuable, being sired by Adam, whose bloodlines are rare in the European population of Somali wild asses.

Basel Zoo’s veterinary team was reluctant to hand-rear Salia, so enlisted the assistance of two local horse specialists.

It was decided to administer a hormone injection to Mwana so that she would experience the birth hormones again. Within 30 minutes, the bond between mother and foal was built, and little Salia was allowed to drink extensively for the first time. She is now doing well, and enjoys testing out her long legs in spurts of speed with her mother in the outdoor enclosure.

Mwana and Salia, who was born on November 13.
Mwana and Salia. © Basel Zoo

Basel Zoo has been home to Somali wild asses since 1970, with the first foal born in 1972.

Salia is one of about 200 Somali wild asses living in zoos across the world. It is believed there are fewer than a thousand remaining in the wild in Ethiopia, Eritrea and possibly Somalia. Wars, competition with domestic animals kept by humans, being hunted for food and use in traditional medicine, and meagre food and water reserves have affected their numbers in recent years.

Mwana and Salia. © Basel Zoo
Mwana and Salia. After initial problems, the pair is now trotting happily around their enclosure. © Basel Zoo

This makes zoos’ efforts to preserve this rare species via the European EEP (the ex-situ programme run by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria [EAZA]) even more important.

Basel Zoo coordinates the Somali wild ass EEP and runs the international studbook.

Tawa and Vusumuzi, who was born in July at Woburn Safari Park.
Tawa and Vusumuzi, who was born in July at Woburn Safari Park. © Woburn Safari Park

• A Somali wild ass foal born at Woburn Safari Park in Britain earlier this year has been named Vusumuzi. The colt, born on July 11 to mum Tawa, four, and dad Quentin, five, was named to honour the species’ African heritage.

Traditionally, the name Vusumuzi is given to first-born males in a family where, once a male is born, it is felt that the family name can easily continue and not die.

Vusumuzi’s dad Quentin was born at Woburn Safari Park in 2016, while mum Tawa arrived at the Park from Berlin in 2019.

Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire is an EAZA accredited zoo, and participates in the European Endangered Species Programme.

Tawa and Vusumuzi, who was born at the Woburn Safari Park.
Tawa and Vusumuzi. © Woburn Safari Park

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