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Adorable And Endangered: Somali Wild Ass Born At St. Louis Zoo, 1 Of Only 68 In North America

Tobias prances around in an enclosure in the "Antelope Yards" at the St. Louis Zoo.
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio
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Tobias prances around in an enclosure in the "Antelope Yards" at the St. Louis Zoo.

On July 30, St. Louis gained a new resident — Tobias, the Somali wild ass. His birth is special, since he is part of a subspecies that is both critically endangered in the wild and underrepresented in zoos nationwide. In fact, just by being born, Tobias increased the number of Somali wild asses in the United States by 1.5%.

Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air, Sarah Fenske spoke with Tim Thier, the acting curator of antelope at St. Louis Zoo, about the Somali wild ass and the zoo’s conservation efforts in the Horn of Africa, where the Somali wild ass resides.

Listen to their conversation:

Why is the Somali wild ass struggling in the wild?

Locals hunt them for food and for “medicinal” purposes. Also, as the human population grows, farmers and domesticated animals compete with native species for resources.

On St. Louis Zoo’s work in the Horn of Africa:

In the Horn of Africa, they help communities find alternative food sources and help to educate natives on the false belief that parts of the Somali wild ass contain medicinal benefits. They also foster coexistence between livestock owners and the wild fauna. They emphasize the potential for tourism revenue from those coming to observe endangered species.

On the name “wild ass”:

Thier said it is an issue at times, adding that kids handle it much better than adults. He said that kids will actually read the sign, while adults hurry past it.

Fun fact about the species:

In order to survive in a desert environment, a Somali wild ass can go several days without drinking and can lose up to 20% of its body's water at a time.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.