Wild asses at the Denver Zoo -- the four-legged Somali kind!

Where's the best place to find wild asses in Denver? If you guessed Shotgun Willie's, you're probably right. But we would have also accepted the Denver Zoo. Why's that? Because the zoo is now home to two 600-pound Somali wild asses named Kalifa and Kamowa.

The two half-brothers recently arrived from the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Click through to see photos and read more about the wild asses. Not to sound all MTV Spring Break or anything.

From the Denver Zoo:

Denver Zoo visitors can enjoy seeing a brand new species to the zoo, Somali wild asses. Two males named Kalifa and Kamowa, just arrived from the San Diego Wild Animal Park. The two half-brothers share the same father. Kalifa, the oldest brother, was born in San Diego in July 2008. Kamowa followed in February 2009. Visitors can see them in their yard now across from Toyota Elephant Passage.

Somali wild asses are smaller than most members of the equid family, which includes horses, zebras and asses. They only stand about four feet tall at the shoulder and weigh about 600 pounds. They have grey coats and white bellies, but their legs have distinctive horizontal stripes. Their narrow hooves help them negotiate rocky terrain.

This species is found in the arid grasslands, rocky hills and semi-deserts of northern Ethiopia and Somalia. Even though they can go without water longer than other equids, given their hot environment, they usually don't stray more than 20 miles from water.

With a wild population of less than 1,000 individuals, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies them as critically endangered. Their biggest threats are being hunted for food and traditional medicine, habitat destruction for agriculture and competition for food and water with domestic livestock.

Somali wild asses have local connections as well. The Spanish brought African wild asses to North America in the 1500s. Their descendants are the wild burros found in the southwestern United States.

More from our News archive: "Effing cute Amur leopard baby now visible to guests at the Denver Zoo."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar