Persian Wild Ass
(Equus heminous onager)
Gureh Khar - in Persian  گورخر ایرانی

Persian Wild Ass (known also as Onager) lives only in Iran and is classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Perissodactyla, family Equidae.
It is generally similar to domesticated donkey but a little larger in size and with a fleet yellow-brown coat but the sides, underparts and back of the body are white. Ears are shorter than a donkey and it has a black mane which is visible on the neck and a dark brown spinal band stretching up to the tail. Males are larger. Weighting approximately 250 Kilograms. Length is 2 meters andİit stands about 1.5 meters high at the shoulder.

Habitat and Distribution :
Once they were common in most of the Central and southern plains of the country. Today, they live only in some Iranian desert regions that limited to Three major protected areas as: "Khoush yeelagh" and "Khartouran" Protected Area in Semnan province and "Bahram Gour" ProtectedİArea in Fars province. These dry, waterless regions are hot during the day and cold at night, with little rainfall yearly.

Diet:
The Persian wild ass is one of the species that has adapted to life in the desert. wild asses are herbivores feeding on foliage, grass, herbs and bushes. They receive most of their necessary water from these plants. Amongst these, green fresh grass forms their favorite food. Asses usually graze in the morning and afternoon when it's cooler. The ass is well-adapted to its environment, with high crowned molars that can grind tough food and which regrow as they are worn away. The ass also has a gut which contains the tiny microscopic protozoa, which helps digest grasses inedible to other animals. Also, compared to other mammals of similar habitat, asses need to drink more water. During hot summer days, they drink water nearly every day from springs which are less than 20 kilometers from their grazing land. In places where they feel they have less protection, they preferring to drink from springs at midnight.

Breeding:
Mating takes place in mid-June. At this time, males fight each other, which includes biting and kicking. Most asses lose a part of their tail during these fights.
Gestation lasts for about one year. Fowls can follow the mare shortly after birth. The mare leaves the herd for a safe place before giving birth. Each mare gives birth to one young only, and a strong bond exists between the female ass and her fowl which lasts for the first two years of the foal's life.

During this time, the mare defends her fowl against all other animals. Stallions become sexually mature at 2 years but due to competition with other stallions, they usually don't succeed is mating until 4 years of age.

Sexual maturity in females depends on their food. Usually, they are capable of mating and breeding at 2 years of age; the Persian mare breeds every other year. Persian asses have a lifespan of about 40 years.

Habit:
Asses live in herds, though old stallions are usually solitary. The mare and her fowl also live together or in herds that are entirely made up of female asses and their fowls. Persian asses are active during the day, becoming most active early in the morning and in the evening. They can run at 60-70 kilometers per hour over short distances, but after a while, this speed is reduced to 40-50 kilometers per hour. At this reduced speed, they can move for hours without becoming tired.

Situation and Conservation: (Risk status-1988: Endangered)
The Persian wild ass is currently in danger of extinction. Its population has declined severely due to over-hunting, competition with livestock for food and water, and loss of natural habitats. According to a report (November 2000) as the result of over grazing of the camels and livestock in the "Kharturan" protected area, the pastures of this area (which is the main habitat of Persian wild asses), are going to be destroyed. This problem is another sign of worry for the feature of this animals in their homeland.

In May 1998 the famous "National Geographic Magazine" had an interesting report about the situation of these animates. This magazine betokened that before the Islamic revolution in Iran (in 1979) there were 12000 wild ass in this country. After just 10 years their number arrived to 3000 and in 1998 there were about 800 heads living in Iran. Today only between 200 and 400 individuals survive in the northern desert plateau of Iran.

For many centuries it was hunted for sport by the Persian nobility, and young onagers were captured for the breeding of riding animals. The Iranian wild ass was so difficult to hunt that many of great Iranian hunters have lost their lives trying to kill or capture it. The most famous onager hunter during our history was "Bahram Gur" a Sassanian king (reigned AD 430-38) whose name "Gur" means "wild ass," in Farsi, and was renowned by his skill hunting onagers. According to a tale, he died when he was following a wild ass. His horse fell in a deep open grave (grave means Gur in Farsi too).

Fortunately, ass has keen senses and can smell humans from a far distance. Owing to the swiftness and endurance of the onager, relatively few animals were captured by traditional methods. However, since the invention of modern firearms and automobiles, the animals have been extensively slaughtered for their flesh and hides.

Efforts to save the Persian Wild Ass:

Since 30 years ago it has been designated as a protected specie In Iran and its hunting is prohibited in all seasons of the year. In 1953-54 Carl-Heinrichs organized an expedition to Iran, in aim to bring to Hamburg a small herd of Persian wild ass.

In their guidebook published in 1955, they wrote that: "It is the purpose of modern zoological parks to become asylums for wildlife in a progressing civilization that is robbing them of their natural environment. "The Denzaus in their beautiful book show that there is still hope for wild asses in the wild."
One of the measures taken by the Department of Environment in Iran to ensure its survival, has been the transfer of 7 heads from "Kharturan" Area to "Khoush yeelagh" Protected Area in Shahrud, where they were set free in 1971. These asses have since continued living successfully in this area.

The first scientific project for breeding the Persian will ass took place in January 1999 in the "Kalmand Bahadoran" protected area of Yazd. This act had 2 levels including: catching and sending free, mating, breeding and observation for learning more about their habits. As the first step 2 stallions with 4 mares have moved from "Kharturan" protected area of Shahrud to this new area.

Onagers breed freely in captivity and are well represented in zoos.

For many centuries it was hunted for sport by the Persian nobility

Some of the Persian wild ass are exported to Israel. Onagers were first imported into Israel in 1969 from Iran, and placed in Hai Bar Yotvata. In this country they have been bred successfully in captivity and reintroduced into the deserts and have good population in two major breeding groups in the large crater in the Negev at Mitzpe Ramon.

Persian Wild Ass in Kavir
Persian Wild Ass in Kavir
Persian Wild Ass in Kavir
Photo (c) "National Geographic Magazine"
Photo (c): The book "Nature of Iran"
 
Persian Wild Ass in Kavir
A female Ass with her foal in Kavir
Old plate shows Bahram hunting Wild Ass
Old painting shows Bahram hunting Wild Ass
 

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