Even Pierre Dandelot falsely assumed that the Somali wild ass is a wild form of donkey

Many naturalists may suppose that the Somali wild ass (Equus somaliensis, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somali_wild_ass) is either

However, ‘ancestral donkey’ may be a misconception, for Equus somaliensis.
This is because

Pierre Dandelot had a fine eye (https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/milewski/54062-photos-cannot-fully-replace-paint-in-the-best-field-guide-books-for-the-larger-mammals# and https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/milewski/69594-re-assessing-the-quality-of-paintings-of-giraffes-by-pierre-dandelot#).

However, even he was misled by the presupposition that the Somali wild ass is essentially on a par with the Nubian wild ass (Equus africanus) and its extinct relatives, in being an original, wild version of the donkey.
In his watercolour of E. somaliensis (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_vmSPzNX4nEE/Ry-rxiW8D1I/AAAAAAAACY4/5ZdUyBrwz-Y/s400/Wild+Ass+%E2%80%93+Burro+Selvagem.jpg), Dandelot made three significant errors.
Firstly, he showed the head to be proportionately far too large. In fact, the size of the head in E. somaliensis is unlike that of the donkey, and similar to that of zebras such as Equus hartmannae (https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-souiq and https://www.needpix.com/photo/1782008/hartmanns-zebra-mountain-zebra-zebra-baby-baby-foal-africa-head-stripes).
Secondly, he portrayed the ear pinnae too long – another aspect of subconscious confusion with the donkey.
Thirdly, he portrayed the mane too short. Although he correctly captured the dark/pale contrast on the mane, he under-represented the pale proximal band in the mane, as one can see by comparison with the photos below.

Again, he subconsciously painted a mane somewhat intermediate between that of E. somaliensis and that of the donkey.
As a minor fault, Dandelot also failed to show the real colours of steel-grey on the body, and cinnamon-hued on the head. He erred on the side of fawn, possibly again misled by his conception of important breeds of the donkey.
I became familiar with Dandelot’s portrayal of this taxon decades before I became familiar with real photos of E. somaliensis.

Because my earlier programming had precedence, it took me further decades to bring my feeling of ‘what is wrong with this picture’, while admiring photos of E. somaliensis in zoos, to full consciousness.
Only later in my life have I resolved this mental gap.

Now, I see the error:
Everyone initially assumed that E. somaliensis is an ancestral donkey, whereas a better way to think of it is as a zebra with striping restricted to the lower legs.

Once I reconceived E. somaliensis in this way, I realised the falsity of my expectations of how it ‘should’ look. And I dare say that thousands of others have a subconscious feeling, every day when beholding photos of somaliensis on the Web, along the lines of “how come I find this animal so splendid, when I know that it is hardly more than a wild donkey?”
Has this false assumption and cognitive dissonance not led to some underminjng of the collective resolve of conservationists to keep this most handsome of equids from extinction?



Posted on September 03, 2022 06:22 AM by milewski milewski


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