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The onager or Persian onager (Equus hemionus onager) is one of the four extant subspecies of Asiatic wild ass, although the relationships with its close relatives are in need more study to confirm its placement.  The onager is a donkey-like small horse native to Iran and introduced to Saudi Arabia, where it lives in deserts foraging on grasses and branches out to eat woodier plant material in dry seasons.

The population size of E. h. onager is vastly reduced from that of 100 years ago, when it ranged throughout Iran.  In 2007, a census estimated a total of about 600 individuals living in two separate and genetically isolated populations, in the small, geographically separated protected areas of Touran and Bahramgor.  An additional five individuals were introduced into Saudi Arabia in 2003, but this managed population has not expanded since.  In Israel, fourteen E. h. onager and E. h. kulan individuals were successfully introduced into a 4500 km2 area by the Israel Nature Reserves Authority; these individuals hybridized and the population expanded to a count of 100 individuals by 1982.  Ongoing monitoring of this hybrid population examines the population increase as a function of behavior, habitat use, social system and changes in vegetation, with the purpose of establishing a management plan for these animals.  About 30 captive individuals are kept in AZA institutions in North America; in 2010 the collaborative conservation association C2S2 produced two onager foals by artificial insemination of stored sperm, a first for any wild equid (The Wilds 2013).

Onagers are threatened by poaching, especially for meat, overgrazing, limited access to water and increased human activities (such as removing shrub growth on which onagers rely for food).  Scientists suggest that increased understanding of basic behaviour, ecology and systematics studies to clarify the subspecies designation of E. h. onager would increase our ability to protect this population. 

(Moehlman, Shah and Feh 2008; Boone 2002; Feh et al. 2002; Saltz et al. 2000 )


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