What's new at Basel Zoo

A new Somali wild ass stallion should bring some fresh blood to Basel Zoo. Adam is a very genetically valuable animal for the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP). It may still be a little while before he produces any offspring. At one and a half years old, Adam is still a teenager and, as he was hand-reared, he must first learn how to behave around the females of the herd.

Adam is joining Basel Zoo from the Hai-Bar Reserve (Israel) and spent some time in his stall following his arrival on 21 September. The new stallion shares very little genetic material with the rest of the European population, which explains why he is very important for the genetic health of the captive population.

Raised by humans

At just one and a half years old, the new stallion has come to Basel Zoo at a very young age, younger than his predecessor. After he was born on 1 August 2015, his mother did not take to him and he was then raised by humans. This is also why Adam is extremely used to having people around which, perhaps differently to what you might expect, makes caring for him a difficult task for his keeper rather than an easy one: Adam treats people as if they were members of the same species, which can be dangerous in certain circumstances. He is defensive over his food and strikes out when he is being playful. When seeking cover, he charges at the keepers. Other asses can deal well with being charged at, but, for a human, having a collision with a 160-kilogram ass is no small matter.

Even rare in zoos

Somali wild asses are critically endangered in the wild. Only around 200 animals are left in the wild in several small subpopulations. The main problems facing the animals are climate change and the threat from humans and pets. They are even rare in captivity, with only 50 zoos housing these animals at present. There are 263 animals registered in the studbook, 193 of which are EEP animals (status as of 31.12.2015). The genetic base is narrow as all EEP animals can be traced back to when 17 animals were imported into Basel Zoo (5) and Hai-Bar (12) in the early seventies. The entire population of Somali wild asses in captivity, therefore, come from these few animals. In addition to this, only a few Somali wild asses have been exported to Europe over the years (a total of nine offspring from the twelve asses from Hai-Bar).

Adam has to integrate

This is why the hopes that Adam will soon provide offspring are even higher than usual. For him to be able to successfully integrate into life in the herd, he will first have to learn to distance himself from humans and to behave like one of his own species. Animals which are hand-reared, like Adam, do not have the best preconditions for breeding. As the stallion is such a genetically valuable animal and is such a good fit for the females in Basel, it is Basel Zoo which has taken on this challenge of integrating him. 

Basel Zoo is supporting a conservation project

Basel Zoo is not only involved in the Endangered Species Programme (EEP) but also in efforts to conserve the Somali wild ass in the wild. The wild ass project in Eritrea, supported by Basel Zoo, plays an important role in the protection of the Somali wild ass. It provides valuable information for researching the animal’s biology and understanding the demands it places on its habitat. Thanks to the results from this, provisions can be drawn up for safeguarding the sub-areas in which the animal lives. The aims are to preserve the ecosystem, protect the wild ass and secure natural resources for the local population over the long term. Basel Zoo has supported the project since 2013.