Persian onager

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Persian onager
Onager Asiatischer Wildesel Equus hemionus onager Zoo Augsburg-10.jpg
Persian onager at Augsburg Zoo, Germany.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus: Equus
Species: E. hemionus
Subspecies: E. h. onager
Trinomial name
Equus hemionus onager
(Boddaert, 1785)

The Persian onager (Equus hemionus onager), also called the Persian wild ass or Persian zebra, is a subspecies[1] of onager (Asiatic wild ass) native to Iran. It is listed as "critically endangered" and "extremely rare",[1] with no more than 600 individuals left in the wild and only 30 individuals living within North American institutions.[citation needed]

Taxonomy and history[edit]

A drawing of a Persian onager.

The Persian onager is also simply named gur, meaning "swift" in Persian language, in which the word "gur" has preserved as the second syllable for ono which meant "donkey". Hence, onager.

Sometimes the term "onager" is reserved specifically for this subspecies.[1] However, as the whole species of the Asiatic wild ass is known simply as onager, it now also serves as the Persian wild ass's scientific name as well (Equus hemionus onager). Information on the basic biology of the subspecies and how it differs from others is lacking, which hampers conservation efforts.[1]

Onagers used to be numerous from the Middle East to China. However, until the 19th century, their population has been reduced to several thousands to a few thousands. There are currently more than 600 Persian onagers living in the wild.

Habitat and distribution[edit]

Persian wild asses are known to inhabit mountain steppes, semi-desert or desert plains. They are usually found in desert steppes. Their largest population is found at in Khar Turan National Park.


Introduced onagers in the Negev Mountains, Israel

The Persian onager are listed as critically endangered by IUCN Red List, as they are close to extinction. Currently, poaching for meat and hide, competition with livestock, and drought are the greatest threats to this species.

Conservation status[edit]

A Persian onager at Chay Bar Yotvata, Israel.

The Asiatic wild asses are highly and legally protected, hunting them is forbidden. There are conservation breed programs, the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) reserved for European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) helping save the Persian onager from extinction, by breeding in captivity and reintroduced in their former ranges, including in new locations once inhabited by Syrian onagers in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Ukraine.

On August 30, 2014, Iranian officials reported that three Persian onagers were born in Khar Turan National Park reserve near Shahroud in Semnan province, where it also has the largest populations of the equids.[2]

In captivity[edit]

There are a few Persian onagers breeding in various zoos of Europe and the Middle East, such as Chester, Whipsnade and Yotvata. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia also breeds Persian onagers including two born in June 2015.

Introduction projects[edit]

Since 2003, Persian onagers have been introduced in Saudi Arabia, where the Syrian wild ass used to live. Introduced Persian onagers live in deserts foraging on grasses and branches out to eat woodier plant material in dry seasons.[3]

In 1968, eleven Persian and Turkmenian onagers were flown from their countries to Israel in exchange for Israeli gazelles. These were bred in captivity at the Hai Bar Yotvata wildlife sanctuary. Together, they bred a few Persian/Turkmenian hybrids in Israel. Offsprings were introduced into the wild in the Negev Mountains area, intended to replace the local subspecies gone extinct. The introduced onagers have since established a stable population of around 200 individuals.


  1. ^ a b c d "Asiatic Wild Ass   Equus hemionus". Gland, Switzerland: IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group. 
  2. ^ MNA. "3 Persian zebras born in Semnan’s National Park". Mehr News Agency. Retrieved 30 August 2014. 
  3. ^ Descriptions and articles about the Persian Onager (Equus hemionus onager),, retrieved 7 February 2015