Monday, August 09, 2010

ENV: Wild Ass Evolution

Donkey's wild ass ancestor confirmed

Humans met and domesticated the donkey 5,000 years ago

Image: Baby donkey nuzzles a larger donkey
Marshall and Saint Louis Zoo
Some Somali wild asses are solitary and others
live in herds that can have up to 50 members.
And mothers stay with their dependent foals.

By Wynne Parr, updated 7/29/2010 8:17:20 PM ET

Five thousand years ago, in North Africa, humans formed an alliance with the wild ancestors of the donkey, twice.

This was no insignificant feat; domestication of the donkey's ancestors helped these ancient cattle herders become more mobile and adapt as the Sahara Desert expanded. Donkeys also expanded over-land trade and contributed to the growth in the early Egypt state.

New research answers, and raises, questions about who these wild animals were and how humans brought them into the fold.

Donkey family tree
Modern donkeys can be divided into two, genetically distinct groups, leading scientists to believe that they have two ancestors, which were believed to be the Somali wild ass and the Nubian wild ass, both subspecies of the African wild ass.

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