The Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus) is a short-legged species of horse (family Equidae) native to the xeric mountain and desert steppes of Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel Central Asia and Mongolia. Similar in look to donkeys, they reach a slightly larger size, about 2.1 meters (6.9 feet) long and 200-260 kg (440-595 lbs). Their coat is red-brown in summer months and becomes yellower in winter, and they have a white-fringed black stripe down their back. Asiatic wild asses are primarily grazers, feeding preferentially on low shrubs and grasses including Stipa glareosa, Agropyron cristatum and Achnatherum Artemisia, grasses, Anabasis spp., Russian thistle (Salsola spp.), saxaul (Haloxylon ammodendron) and pea shrubs (Caragana spp.). When grasses are scarcer in drier seasons, however, their feeding strategy shifts to a browsing pattern and they will eat more broadly to include woody plants.
Equus hemionus includes at least four living subspecies (E. h. hemionus, the Mongolian wild ass; E. h. kulan, the Turkmenian kulan; E. h. onager, the Persian onager; and E. h. khur, the Indian wild ass). Another subspecies, the Syrian wild ass, E. h. hemippus, went extinct in 1927. Before molecular studies established it as its own species, the kiang, or Asiatic wild ass (now Equus kiang), was also considered a subspecies of E. hemionus.
Historically, this species ranged throughout Mongolia, much of China, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, however in the last 100 years its range has become significantly smaller and fragmented, with population numbers in decline. In the last 16 years its global population size has decreased 52%, to a current estimated population size of 8398 individuals. Threats to this species vary by local but include poaching for meat and hides, increase in human activities, competition for range land and water, fragmentation of grazing area and degradation of environment. The Asiatic wild ass is legally protected in Mongolia, Turkmenistan, Iran and India. All subspecies are included in CITES appendix I or II, and it has endangered status on the IUCN red list of threatened species. Researchers note that populations can crash to dangerously low levels in a very short time. Some reintroduction of species into native lands has been successful, but more research into basic behavior, ecology and disease control is called for.
(Moehlman, Shah and Feh 2008; Wikipedia 2014)
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