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Tracking the Wild Asses of the Negev

Tracking the Wild Asses of the Negev

April 22, 2013

Desert & Water Research

When people hear “wild ass” they think “donkey” but this species is not the progenitor of the donkey.

Wild Ass in the Negev

A male wild ass in Israel’s Negev desert (Photo: Alan Templeton)

Rather the Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus) belongs to the same genus as the domestic horse. But, one reason it became an endangered species is that it has never been domesticated.

The Asiatic wild ass disappeared from Israel’s Negev region in the 1920s.

A remnant herd survived in the Shah of Iran’s zoo, and some of these animals were brought back to Israel before the Iranian revolution in 1979, where they were bred in captivity.

But since they were released in the 1980s and 1990s, these animals have been difficult to find, much less to monitor.

Researchers Dr. Shirli Bar David, of BGU’s Conservation and Ecological Genetics Lab at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research; Prof. Amos Bouskila of BGU’s Department of Life Sciences and Prof. Alan Templeton of Washington University in St. Louis have joined forces to determine how the wild asses of the Negev are faring as a free population.

Wild Ass of the Negev - GPS Tagging

BGU researcher Amos Bouskila (left) helps tag a wild ass with a GPS collar

So as not to disturb the wild asses, the researchers are using unobtrusive monitoring methods such as collecting DNA from dung and tracking the animals with GPS collars.

“The dung told us a lot about the behavior and ecology of the wild asses,” says Prof. Templeton.

“And we learned more about their social behavior by videotaping from blinds near water holes.”

Dr. Bar David, Prof. Bouskila and Prof. Templeton recently received a new grant from the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation, which has been funding their work.

The researchers plan to collar seven or eight more asses when they begin to congregate around the waterholes this summer.