Research and conservation of the critically endangered African Wild Ass, Eritrea

Dr Patricia Moehlman is working to save the African Wild Ass, the world’s most endangered wild horse, whose population has collapsed by 90% since 1980. It inhabits one of the harshest climates and terrains in the world, the Horn of Africa. Historically there were two subspecies of wild ass, the Somali and the Nubian. The Somali wild ass only exists in limited numbers in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Patricia’s project will carry out much needed exploration in northern Eritrea to determine if the Nubian wild ass still exists.

The project will provide the scientific information needed to understand and conserve the critically endangered African wild ass through assessing their present population size, reproductive biology, habitat requirements and interactions with local pastoralists and their domestic livestock. It will provide educational materials on the biology and status of the wild ass and its fragile desert ecosystem.

Research will be conducted on the current levels of genetic variation in the Messir Plateau and Yob populations in Eritrea, the validity of the subspecific designation and whether hybridisation has occurred between wild asses and domestic donkeys. Critical to understanding how management for both human utilisation and resource conservation could be achieved is the traditional knowledge of the Afar communities, and their natural resource management in the regions were the African wild ass occur.

Consultation with the local communities together with conservation education in schools and amongst local pastoralists and military personnel will ensure the survival of the species and the deserts in which they live.

During her 13 years in Tanzania, Patricia has worked extensively on the issues of conflict between wildlife and pastoralists in sub-Saharan Africa, including assessing the health and economics of the resident pastoralists. This has included modelling ecosystems, preparing inventories of biodiversity, and establishing long-term ecological monitoring in nature reserves and National Parks.

Patricia is Chair of the Equid Specialist Group, IUCN/SSC. Her plan for the future is to continue work in Eritrea, with the Eritrean authorities and people to develop a management plan for the Denkelia and Yob Regions that will maintain ecosystem integrity, conserve the wild ass and provide long term food security for the local people.

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