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|A Persian onager (Equus hemionus onager) at Rostov-on-Don Zoo, Russia.|
|Equus hemionus range|
The onager (Equus hemionus) is a large member of the genus Equus of the family Equidae (horse family) native to the deserts of Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel (where it was reintroduced between 1982-1987), Central Asia, and Mongolia. The kiang (E. kiang), a Tibetan relative, was previously considered to be a subspecies of the onager as E. hemionus kiang, but recent molecular studies indicate that it is a distinct species. It is also known as the Asiatic wild ass, Asian wild ass, or wild Asian ass (in which case the term "onager" is reserved for the E. h. onager subspecies, more specifically known as the Persian onager).
Like many other large grazing animals, the onager's range has contracted greatly under the pressures of poaching and habitat loss. Of the five subspecies, one is extinct and at least two are endangered (their status in China is not well known).
The specific name is Ancient Greek ἡμίονος (hēmíonos), from ἡμι- (hēmi-), half, and ὄνος (ónos), donkey; thus, half-donkey or mule. In Persian the archaic word gur preserves the second syllable of the common Indo-European term that includes ona/ono (donkey) and ger/gur (swift).
Onagers are a little larger than donkeys at about 290 kilograms (640 lb) and 2.1 metres (6.9 ft) (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.
Onagers are notoriously untamable. Equids were used in ancient Sumer to pull wagons circa 2600 BC, and then chariots on the Standard of Ur, circa 2550 BC. Clutton-Brock (1992) suggests that these were donkeys rather than onagers on the basis of a "shoulder stripe". However, close examination of the animals (equids, sheep and cattle) on both sides of the piece indicate that what appears to be a stripe may well be a harness, a trapping, or a joint in the inlay.
Widely recognized subspecies of the onager include:
- Mongolian wild ass (khulan), Equus hemionus hemionus
- Turkmenian kulan (kulan), Equus hemionus kulan
- Persian onager (gur), Equus hemionus onager
- Indian wild ass (khur), Equus hemionus khur
- Syrian wild ass or hemippe, Equus hemionus hemippus (extinct)
- Moehlman, P. D., Shah, N. & Feh, C. (2008). "Equus hemionus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 7 Nov 2010.
- Saltz, D. (1995). "Population dynamics of a reintroduced Asiatic wild ass (Equus Hemionus) herd". Ecological Applications 5(2): 327–335.
- Grubb, P. (2005). "Order Perissodactyla". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 632. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- "Asiatic Wild Ass Equus hemionus". IUCN.org. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group.
- Clutton-Brock, Juliet (1992). Horse Power: A History of the Horse and the Donkey in Human Societies. Boston, Massachusetts, US: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-40646-9.
- Heimpel, Wolfgang (1968). Tierbilder in der Sumerische Literatur. Italy: Studia Pohl 2.
- Maekawa, K. (1979). "The Ass and the Onager in Sumer in the Late Third Millennium B.C.". Acta Sumerologica' (Hiroshima) I: 35–62.
- Porter, Valerie (ed.); Ian Lauder Mason (2002). Mason's World Dictionary of Livestock Breeds, Types, and Varieties (5th ed.). Wallingford: CABI. ISBN 0-85199-430-X.
- Duncan, P. (ed.). 1992. Zebras, Asses, and Horses: an Action Plan for the Conservation of Wild Equids. IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.[clarification needed]]]
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