Deformed Rare Baby Wild Ass Saved by Emergency Surgery in Israel

Complicated operation to reroute his urethra saved newborn ass from fatal defect – and the Ramat Gan Safari Park successfully introduced Adam to the herd.

Tibor Jaeger

An extremely rare newborn wild ass turned out to be suffering from a birth defect that would have doomed him, if not for prompt action by zookeepers and a university hospital.

The infant African wild ass (as opposed to Asiatic wild ass) was born in August at the Yotvata Hai Bar animal center, which is devoting serious effort to trying to save various wild ass species from extinction.

"The mother must have sensed there was a problem. She rejected him," says Sagit Horowitz, spokeswoman of the Ramat Gan Safari Park, adding, "In nature, he would have had no right to survive."

Observing the rejection but not realizing the baby had a deadly defect, the Hai Bar staff sent the trembling newborn to the Safari Park in Ramat Gan, which has experience in caring for asses. He arrived in a critical state of exhaustion and dehydration, prompting the park staffers to immediately drive him to the nearby Hebrew University of Jerusalem veterinary school at Beit Dagan.

It was the university that diagnosed the problem: the tiny beast had a rare birth defect. His urine was not evacuating properly - part was evacuating through the navel opening.

The newborn wild ass reached the Safari Park in a state of dehydrated prostration
Tibor Jaeger

From birth onwards, the kidneys evacuate through ureter tubes to bladder. In fetuses, the waste empties through the cord into the mother's bloodstream: instead of leading to the bladder, the ureters lead to the umbilical cord.

In other words, the baby wild ass' urinary system had failed to develop and the ureters had at least in part, not re-routed properly.

The operation by Dr. Roy Dahan to correct the condition, closing the aperture in the bladder that allowed urine to escape, took two and a half hours, says Safari spokeswoman Sagit Horowitz. The bottom line is that the baby ass' navel had to be removed and through the aperture, the doctors relocated the trajectory of his little tubules.

After a month's stay at the hospital, during which he underwent physiotherapy and rehabilitation, the tiny wild ass was declared to be out of danger, and was returned to the Safari Park.

Then began the process of introducing him to the herd – and giving him a name. As he had no navel any more, the Safari people named him Adam. (Having been made of clay, not woman, the original Adam is supposed to have had no belly button).

The African wild ass herd at the Ramat Gan Safari Park
Guy Kfir

De facto, four-footed Adam had no mother either and began imprinting on the zookeepers. They however were careful to minimize contact, to the point of not feeding him his formula in baby bottles by hand.

Once feeling he was ready, Guy Kfir, head of the wild asses program, allowed Adam  into the open area with the rest of the asses, in a gradual process.

First Adam was released into the open area by himself and, as asses do, he began exploring the area. Once he had been familiarized, the keepers let in a three-year old female named Bar, coincidentally his biological sister. No, they didn't think she would show familial affection – the choice was based on her placid character. Of the park's three asses aside from Adam, she was the subservient. And once he got along with Bar, baby Adam was introduced to the rest of the herd.

Sadly, Adam cannot stay at the Safari forever because otherwise he would wind up mating with his sister. Asses reach sexual maturity at age 3-4, by which time the animal will be at a different zoo, says Horowitz.

Adam is an African wild ass, the species that gave rise to the domestic donkey. The Yotvata Hai Bar is working on breeding the African ass – and on restoring another subspecies, the Syrian wild ass, to nature.

The African wild ass herd at the Ramat Gan Safari Park - with the addition of little Adam.
Guy Kfir

With only 500 known to exist in nature, and about 160 in zoos, there aren't even enough African wild asses to contemplate a reintroduction plan yet, explains Horowitz – hence the importance of saving baby Adam. He doesn't need a navel to procreate, she quips.