Scientific name synonyms available (in Grubb 2005): castaneus Lydekker, 1904; finschi Matschie, 1911; hemionos Boddaert, 1785; typicus Sclater.
E. h. luteus (- the Gobi Kulan) in southern Mongolia and northern China, is probably a synonym of E. h. hemionus (Oakenfull et al. 2000, Grubb 2005)
|Body Length||200 cm|
|Shoulder Height||125-145 cm|
|Tail Length||30-50 cm|
Wild asses are a little larger than donkeys at about 260 kilograms and 2,1 metres (head-body length), and are a little more horse-like. They are short-legged compared to horses, and their coloring varies depending on the season. Some individuals have a pale/golden-brown coat color in summer, while others have a reddish-brown coat color on the flanks, neck and the back side, and yellowish-white on the belly and legs. In autumn, the coat color becomes much darker. They are notoriously untamable.
(Sources: Wikipedia; Anne-Camille Souris 2011)
They have a black stripe bordered in white that extends down the middle of the back. On the nape of the neck there is a stiff, upright mane, the hairs of which are tipped with black. The ears are large with black margins. The tail terminates with a black brush. The hooves are slender, approximately the diameter of the legs.
Asiatic Wild Ass inhabit mountain steppe, steppe, semi-desert and desert plains. They are usually found in desert steppe. Typically they are grazers and in Mongolia (Gobi B) throughout the year they eat Stipa glareosa, Agropyron cristatum and Achnatherum. They can be found in rocky or sandy areas associated with Artemisia, grasses, Anabasis spp., Russian thistle (Salsola spp.), saxaul (Haloxylon ammodendron) and pea shrubs (Caragana spp.).
To date, there have been few detailed studies of Asiatic Wild Ass feeding ecology. However, observations suggest a feeding strategy similar to that observed in other equids in xeric environments. When grass is plentiful, Asiatic Wild Ass are predominately grazers. During dry season and in drier habitats, Asiatic Wild Ass will browse a large portion of their diet.
While Asiatic Wild Ass eat woody plants, other forage is taken when possible. Animals have been observed eating seed pods and using their hooves to break up woody vegetation to obtain more succulent forbs growing at the base of the woody plants. Herds can number up to 1,200 individuals. Water sources are an important determinant of distribution; in summer months the species occurs within 10-15 km of standing water, and this range increases five-fold in winter when it is not restricted by water availability. In Mongolia, Asiatic Wild Ass have been observed digging holes as deep as 60 cm in dry riverbeds to access water and are eating snow during winter as a substitute.
There have been a number of studies on social organisation and behavioural ecology of Asiatic asses. In all studies, breeding is seasonal and females with young tend to group together in relatively small groups (two to five females). Descriptions of male breeding strategies differ considerably (see IUCN Red List factsheet).
Further study on individuals is necessary to fully understand the social behaviour of Asiatic wild ass. It is likely that differences in social structure and behaviour depend on climatic seasonality, vegetation cover, and predator hunting pressures.
Wild asses can run swiftly, almost as fast as a horse. However, unlike most hoofed mammals, their tendency is to not flee right away from a potentially dangerous situation, but to investigate first before deciding what to do. When they need to they can defend themselves with kicks from both their front and hind legs.
Generation length in Equus hemionus is seven years, age at first reproduction for females is 5 years. Females produce one foal every three years with a sex-ratio at birth of 50/50, first year survival rate is approximately 50%, second year survival rate is approximately also around 50%. Only half of the stallions reproduce, yielding an approximately one-third of the population being 'sexually mature individuals'.
|Gestation Period||11-12 months|
|Young per Birth||1|
|Weaning||At 6-8 months|
|Sexual Maturity||5 years|
|Life span||Up to 40 years|
No clear information is found available about animals that prey upon Asiatic Wild Ass.
The global population of mature Asiatic wild ass has declined by 52% population in the last 16 years. It occurs in 14 locations and is severely fragmented.
According to Moehlman and Feh (2000) there are between 38,000 – 53,000 individuals and the population trend is decreasing. Other experts Kaczensky and Walzer (2008) say that there are ~30,000 and that there is no clear trend.
The current estimated number of mature individuals is 8,358. The estimated global population decline in the future is 50+% due to illegal hunting.
The largest remaining subspecies population is the Mongolian khulan (E. h. hemionus) which was estimated in 2003 at 18,411 +/- 898 in four areas. Southern Mongolia currently holds the largest population of Asiatic wild ass in the world, representing almost 80% of the global population. However, this population is at risk due to illegal hunting and numbers have declined significantly from an estimated population size of 43,165 in 1997.
There may be as many as 4,800 to 6,000 Mongolian Khulan in the Kalameili Reserve in China, but this may be a seasonal population that is migrating from Mongolia.
Offtake for the illegal meat trade is estimated at 3,000 individuals per year. Recruitment (number of offspring) varies from 3-23 percent. The potential net loss per year may be 5-10%. In 21 years or 3 generations, the population decline will be greater than 50%. If illegal hunting continues in Mongolia, the potential decline of this important population will be 5-10% per year.
The Kulan (E. h. kulan) population in Badkhys Preserve, Turkmenistan, has declined by approximately 90% in a three year period (Source: Feh et al 2002).
|World||30,000 – 53,000||Decreasing|
|Kazakhstan – whole||~ 1000||Increasing|
|Kazakhstan - Altyn Emel||~ 600 -1000||Increasing|
|Kazakhstan - Barsakelmes||150||?|
|Turkmenistan – whole||~ 1500||?|
|Turmenistan – Badkhys||900||?|
|Ukraine - whole||~ 154||Increasing|
|Uzbekistan - Bukhara reserve||25-34||Increasing|
|Ukraine - Askania Nova||71 (Yasynetska, 2002)||?|
|Ukraine – Azovo Syvasky||57 (Yasynetska, 2002)|
|Mongolia - whole||33,000 – 66,000 (Reading, 2001); 20,000 animals (Lhagvasuren, B. 2007)|
|China - whole||2,000 - 5,000 (Yang 2007)||The estimate of 11,400 animals by Chunwang et al. (2002) for Inner Mongolia seems highly unlikely (Kaczensky pers. comm. 2009)|
|Iran – Bahram e Goor||175-185 (2004) (Hamadanian, 2005)||stable/slightly increasing|
|Iran – Touran||200-250 (2004) (Hamadanian, 2005)||Declining|
|Males||Females||Unknowns||Births (last 12 months)|
|Total number of animals of all subspecies in zoos around the world (2011)||93||132||3||17|
In historic times the Asiatic Wild Ass ranged through much of Mongolia, north to Transbaikalia (Russia), east to northeastern Inner Mongolia (China) and possibly western Manchuria (China), and west to Dzhungarian Gate.
It formerly occurred in Kazakhstan, north to the upper Irtysh and Ural Rivers in Russia, and westward north of the Caucasus and Black Sea to at least the Dniestr River (Ukraine), Anatolia (Turkey), Syria, and southeast of the Caspian Sea in Iran, northern Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, east to Thar Desert of northwestern India.
It also extended through the Arabian Peninsula as far south as central Saudi Arabia. It survived in Armenia and Azerbaijan until 17th-18th Centuries.
The Syrian Wild Ass, one of the subspecies, became extinct when the last known captive animal died in the Vienna Zoo in 1927 and the last wild animals disappeared at around the same time.
By the 19th Century, their range had declined significantly. Today, the most abundant subpopulation of the species, representing ~70% of the total population, occurs in the southern part of Mongolia (especially in the southeast Gobi (Dornogovi aimag) and southwest Gobi (Dzungarian Gobi)) and adjacent northern China.
The species also survives as isolated populations of a few hundred up to a few thousand individuals in India (the Rann of Kutch), Turkmenistan (the Badkhyz Preserve) and in Iran (Touran National Park and Bahram-e-Goor Reserve).
Populations have been re-established as follows:
The re-established populations in Ukraine, Israel and Saudi Arabia are not the subspecies that originally occurred there.
The largest surviving subpopulation, the Mongolian khulan (Equus h. hemionus), is in Mongolia, where it was formerly widely distributed throughout steppe and semi-desert habitats, from the extreme west of the country to the Mongolian-Russian-Chinese border in the extreme north-east.
The Asiatic wild ass has experienced a major decline in population size and range size, even in Mongolia and they are now only found in the Trans Altai Gobi Desert, the Northern Gobi, the Alashani Gobi Desert and the Dzungarian Gobi Desert, as far north as Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in the Eastern Gobi. Recent evidence suggests that the population has either expanded or shifted further north and east over the past 20-25 years, but rarely crosses the Ulaanbaatar-Beijing railway line.
There are important populations in the Great Gobi Section B Strictly Protected Area, in Dzungarian Gobi, and the Great Gobi Section A Strictly Protected Area in Trans Altai Govi Desert.
The threats to the species include loss of habitat as a result of human settlement, cultivation, overgrazing, illegal hunting, developmental activities, conflict with humans (crop depredation), competition for water, salt extraction, mining, possibly competition with domestic livestock, and in certain parts of the range, war and civil unrest have had a detrimental effect on the species. The species appears to have lost 50% of its former range in Mongolia over the last 70 years.
The population in Iran has declined by at least 28% over the last three generations (21 years). Although it is currently restricted to two protected areas, poaching for meat and competition with livestock are still believed to be the primary threats for this population. Periods of drought may also pose a threat to the population due to a reduction of food and water resources.
Geographic isolation of populations could also endanger their viability. No exchange of animals has been reported between Touran and Bahram-e-Goor or between Touran and the border of Turkmenistan where the E. h. kulan occurs. This could affect the Bahram-e-Goor population in particular.
Reliable data on (Mongolian) Gobi Khulans is still lacking. Due to the large areas they cover, it is very hard to count them from the ground. Indirect evidence, namely the abundance of Gobi Khulan carcasses and illegal hunting suggest that the population is decreasing. The off-take rate via illegal hunting may be as many as 3,000 individuals per year. This would result in a 5% decline per year and over a 20 year period could result in a greater than 60% decline.
Data from China are scarce, but there seems to be a viable population in Xinjiang province in the Kalamaili nature reserve, regular occurrence in the Baitak mountains and sporadic occurrences in northern Inner Mongolia.
Perhaps the greatest threat to the populations of Asiatic wild ass appears to be the potential for catastrophic population declines due to poaching (i.e., Kulan in Turkmenistan and Kulan in Mongolia). Disease and/or drought are "stress events" that are a constant threat to small, isolated Wild ass populations, such as those in India, Iran, Israel, and Turkmenistan.
For example, a disease outbreak of African horse sickness in the 1960s resulted in a major decline and the extinction of small khur populations.
Continued fragmentation and marginalization of the smaller populations could result in similar extinctions. Small, isolated populations are demographically and genetically vulnerable.
Several breeding programs and reintroduction projects have been moderately successful (www.aza.org).
From interviews that have been conducted by Anne-Camille Souris in 2006 and 2008 in the south and southeast Gobi, it seems that the Mongolian wild ass is also used in traditional medicine, but more information is needed to clearly determine which organs are really used in the traditional medicine in Mongolia, for which use, and if Kulans are killed for this use or if only dead animals are used for medicine.
The status of the species in Turkmenistan needs to
be assessed to confirm whether the population is indeed
stabilizing/increasing again. Breeding programs and reintroduction
projects need to be evaluated and properly managed, particularly with
respect to overpopulation, which needs to be avoided.
WWF is currently finalizing an Action Plan for future conservation and restoration in Turkmenistan. It includes follow-up work in Badkhyz and all reintroduction sites.
Close cross border cooperation and managing the border region between Xinjiang and Mongolia as a peace park or ecological corridor would greatly increase the connectivity of the current wild ass population and could result in a large protected area network. Thus allowing effective conservation and exchange of species between Kalamaili (18,000 km²), Great Gobi B SPA (9,000 km²) and Great Gobi A SPA (44,000 km²).
A solid monitoring scheme is needed to assess the
current situation regarding the status and distribution of Mongolian Khulan, both
in Mongolia as well as in China. In Mongolia several research projects were recently initiated on this species, this should be considered for China as well.
Raise public awareness and establish education programmes to highlight the international importance and socioeconomic benefits of Mongolian populations; e.g. teach herders that they benefit from Asiatic wild ass digging waterholes in dry riverbed.