Khulan close up 277 unknown author2

Asiatic Wild Ass - Equus hemionus

Family:
Horses and Asses (Perissodactyla Equidae)
Status:
Endangered

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Taxonomic status

Scientific name

Equus hemionus

Common name

Asiatic Wild Ass

Synonyms

Asian wild ass; Onager; Persian Wild Ass; Khulan; Gobian Khulan; Mongolian Wild Ass; Dziggetai; Syrian Wild Ass

Subspecies

Comments on the subspecies

Scientific name synonyms available (in Grubb 2005): castaneus Lydekker, 1904; finschi Matschie, 1911; hemionos Boddaert, 1785; typicus Sclater.

Subspecies

  • Equus hemionus hemionus / Equus hemionus luteus - Mongolian K(h)ulan / Gobi Kulan
  • Equus hemionus hemippus - Syrian Wild Ass
  • Equus hemionus Khur - Khur
  • Equus hemionus kulan - Turkmen Kulan; Turkmenian Wild Ass
  • Equus hemionus onager - Onager

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)

Comments

  • Henri Kerkdijk wrote on 24/09/2010 4:01pm (4 years ago):

    According to (ancient) mitochondrial DNA research carried out by Cooper et al (2006, 2009), the European wild ass (Equus Hydruntinus) clusters within ancient and modern day Equus Hemionus.
    Multiple studies reveal that the European wild ass survived well into historical times and was also accustomed to colder and wetter climates and vegetation.
    These two conclusion together could mean that Equus Hemionus (of the right climate and vegetation zones) is actually a legal candidate for reintroduction into European habitats.

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Species information

Physical characteristics

Body Length 200 cm
Shoulder Height 125-145 cm
Tail Length 30-50 cm
Weight 230-275 kg


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)

Wild asses are a little larger than donkeys at about 290 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. They are generally reddish-brown in color during the summer, becoming yellowish-brown in the winter months. They have a black stripe bordered in white that extends down the middle of the back. They are notoriously untameable (Wikipedia).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.

Habitat, behaviour, food and reproduction

Habitat

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.).

Feeding

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.

Behaviour

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.

Reproduction

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


Photo: Petra Kaczensky

 

Predation

No clear information is found available about animals that prey upon Asiatic Wild Ass.

Population size and trends

World population

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.

Mongolia

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.

China

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.

Turkmenistan

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).

 

AreaNumbersDevelopment
World30,000 – 53,000Decreasing
Kazakhstan – whole~ 1000Increasing
Kazakhstan - Altyn Emel~ 600 -1000 Increasing
Kazakhstan - Barsakelmes150?
Turkmenistan – whole~ 1500?
Turmenistan – Badkhys900?
Ukraine - whole~ 154Increasing
Uzbekistan - Bukhara reserve25-34Increasing
Israel100?
Ukraine - Askania Nova71 (Yasynetska, 2002)?
Ukraine – Azovo Syvasky57 (Yasynetska, 2002)
Mongolia - whole33,000 – 66,000 (Reading, 2001); 20,000 animals (Lhagvasuren, B. 2007)
China - whole2,000 - 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 Goor175-185 (2004) (Hamadanian, 2005)stable/slightly increasing
Iran – Touran200-250 (2004) (Hamadanian, 2005)Declining

Captive populations

MalesFemalesUnknownsBirths (last 12 months)
Total number of animals of all subspecies in zoos around the world (2011)93132317
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Distribution: maps, historical and current

Countries

Landscapes

Interactive map

Map: Equus hemionus - Asiatic Wild Ass: historical situation


View Equus hemionus - original in a larger map

Map: Equus hemionus - Asiatic Wild ass:: actual situation


View Equus hemionus - actual in a larger map

Further map information

Current distribution Asiatic Wild Ass
Source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Asiatic Wild Ass - current distribution. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Historical distribution

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.

Current distribution

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:

  • Barsa-Khelmes Island in the Aral Sea (Kazakhstan)
  • Aktay-Buzachinskiy reserve on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (Kazakhstan)
  • Andasayskiy reserve and Kapchagayskoye in southeastern Kazakhstan
  • Dzheiran Ecocentre near Bukhara (Uzbekistan)
  • Meana-Chaacha
  • Kaakha
  • Kopet Dag
  • Sumbar Valley in southern Turkmenistan (re-introduced populations in Kurtusu and Germab perhaps no longer survive)
  • Sarakamish Lake in northern Turkmenistan
  • The Beruchi Peninsula (Ukraine)
  • The Negev (southern Israel)
  • Taïf (Saudi Arabia)

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.

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Conservation information

IUCN Red List

Endangered: A2abc+3bd (2008)

CITES

Appendix II, E. h. hemionus and E. h. khur listed on App. I

EU Wildlife trade regulation EC Reg. 338/97

Annex A

Bonn convention

Appendix II

Conservation status

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).

Socio-economic aspects

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.

Conservation organisations and important websites

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Project information

Title

There are project proposals available of the subspecies Kulan. They can be found on the Kulan-page.

Year, Organisation

2010, LHNet

Description

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Library

Articles

Posters and illustrations

Presentations

Reports

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Recommendations, remarks and advice

Spatial Requirements

Turkmenistan species status

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.

China & Mongolia - Peace Park

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).

China & Mongolia - migration routes

Consider migration routes when planning transportation routes and fences, including implementation of mitigation measures along fenced transportation routes (e.g. railway Ulaanbaatar-Beijing).

Species Management

China & Mongolia - monitoring scheme

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.

Economical

Mongolia Prevent illegal trade

Control meat markets, to prevent illegal trade in carcasses within Mongolia.

Mongolia Alternative income

Livelihood aid for local people, e.g., alternative income strategies.

Communication

Mongolia Awareness and education

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.

Local conflicts

Conflict between local pastoralists and agricultural groups needs to be addressed.

China & Mongolia - Cooperation

In this respect, strong cooperation with local rangers and population is strongly needed to permit the long term success of the Mongolian wild ass conservation in Mongolia, including education of local people.

Legal Requirements

China & Mongolia - Border control

Enhance enforcement of existing protective legislature, including strict control at border posts between Mongolia and China for illegal export of carcasses.

Scientific

Turkmenistan Classified subspecies

There is some doubt whether Equus h. onager and E. h. kulan are sufficiently different to be classified in two subspecies. This needs to be clarified since it could affect the Onager populations in Iran and the Kulan populations in Turkmenistan, as well as the introduced hybrid population in Israel.

    Monitoring

    The current status of many populations of Asiatic Wild Ass is unclear, and broad-scale monitoring is badly needed.

    Population numbers

    Conduct further research on population numbers, habitat use and migration routes, and rigorous annual population monitoring, preferentially using aerial surveys.

    Social structure

    It is likely that differences in social structure and behaviour depend on climatic seasonality, vegetation cover, and predator hunting pressures. Additional clarification of social structure and the factors that influence animal movement and behaviour (e.g. climatic and anthropogenic factors, grazing pressure, etc.) can provide a helpful tool in understanding threats to individual populations.

    Conservation plan

    Studies demonstrate that there is a great deal of flexibility within the species' social structure. With increasing levels of desertification and habitat fragmentation, all the above and future studies should be consulted in the formation of habitat and species conservation plan.

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    Experts and scientific referees

    IUCN SSC

    For more detailed information view the 'Asiatic Wild Ass - Equus hemionus' page on to the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

    Ghasemi, Amin

    Ghoddousi, Arash

    Conservation biologist. Iran
    Plan for the Land Society
    www.plan4land.org

    Goral, Katarzyna

    Hemami, Mahmoud-Reza

    Ungulates
    Isfahan University of Technology, Iran

    Kaczensky, Petra

    Asiatic wild ass, Przewalski’s horse, (Wild camel); Mongolia, Alps, Iran, drylands, mountains; Large carnivores, Habitat use, Human dimension, GIS
    Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria
    www.fiwi.at

    Lkhagvasuren, Badamjav

    WWF Mongolia

    Michel, Stefan

    Mountain ungulates
    NABU, Germany, Mountain Ungulates Project in Tajikistan
    www.wildlife-tajikistan.org/

    Moehlman, Patricia D.

    Olson, Kirk

    Resource predictability and movement strategies in ungulates
    Department of Natural Resources Conservation University of Massachusetts
    nrc.umass.edu/index.php/people/graduate-students/olson-kirk/

    Pereladova, Olga

    WWF Central Asia Regional programme. Scientific research on acoustic communication, behaviour, ecology, conservation and restoration.
    WWF Russia
    www.wwf.ru/eng

    Saltz, David

    Conservation, Persian fallow deer, Asiatic wild ass, Arabian oryx, Mountain gazelle, Ibex; Israel, Mediterranean and desert; Modeling and analysis
    Ben Gurion University, Israel

    Shah, Nita

    equid specialist
    Asian coordinator for equid specialist group, IUCN

    Souris, Anne-Camille

    Ethologist for wild Equids conservation and member of the SSC/IUCN Equid Specialist Group.
    Association GOVIIN KHULAN
    www.goviin-khulan.com/

    Yadamsuren, Adiya

    Conservation of the Ungulates of Steppe, mountain and forest, and Wild camels in Mongolia. Wild camels, Gobi bear, Wild ass, Goitered gazelle. Mongolia, China, Central Asian, Great Gobi , Great Gobi Ecosystem. Desert landscapes.
    Mammalian ecological laboratory, Institute of Biology, Mongolian Academy of Science.

    Yusefi, Gholam Hosein

    Zoology; large mammal's ecology and conservation (especially Asiatic black bear, Asiatic cheetah, Asian wild ass, brown bear). Iran
    Mohitban Society

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    Sources

    Lhagvasuren, B.

    2007, Population assessment of Kulan (Equus hemionus) in Mongolia, Exploration into the Biological Resources of Mongolia, 10:45-48

    Lukarevski, V. S. and Y. K. Gorelov

    2007, Kulan (Equus hemionus Pallas 1775) in Turkmenistan, Exploration into the Biological Resources of Mongolia, 10:231-240

    Kaczensky, P. and C. Walzer

    2008, Der Asiatische Wildesel - bedrohter Überlebenskünstler in der Wüste Gobi, Zeitschrift des Kölner Zoo, 51(3):147-163

    Kaczensky, P., R. Kuehn, B. Lhagvasuren, S. Pietsch, W. Yang, and C. Walzer

    2011, Connectivity of the Asiatic wild ass population in the Mongolian Gobi, Biological Conservation, 144:920–929

    Moehlman, P.D., Shah, N., Feh, C.

    2008, Equus hemionus, IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1 www.iucnredlist.org

    Yang, W.

    2007, An overview on the state of Equus hemionus in whole China, Exploration into the Biological Resources of Mongolia, 10:155-158

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    All comments on Asiatic Wild Ass (Equus hemionus)

    Comments

    • Henri Kerkdijk wrote on 24/09/2010 4:01pm (4 years ago):

      According to (ancient) mitochondrial DNA research carried out by Cooper et al (2006, 2009), the European wild ass (Equus Hydruntinus) clusters within ancient and modern day Equus Hemionus.
      Multiple studies reveal that the European wild ass survived well into historical times and was also accustomed to colder and wetter climates and vegetation.
      These two conclusion together could mean that Equus Hemionus (of the right climate and vegetation zones) is actually a legal candidate for reintroduction into European habitats.

    Post your comment

    Only users with an account can post comments.

    • If you have an account login by clicking here.
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