Mongolian wild ass

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Not to be confused with the related Turkmenian kulan.
Mongolian wild ass
3 khulan am Wasser Abend.jpg
Mongolian wild asses in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus: Equus
Species: E. hemionus
Subspecies: E. h. hemionus
Trinomial name
Equus hemionus hemionus
Pallas, 1775

Equus (Asinus) hemionus bedfordi Matschie 1911
Equus (Asinus) hemionus findschi Matschie 1911
Equus (Asinus) hemionus luteus Matschie 1911

The Mongolian wild ass (Equus hemionus hemionus), also known as Mongolian khulan is the nominate subspecies of the onager. It is found in Mongolia and northern China, and was previously found in eastern Kazakhstan and southern Siberia before being extirpated there through hunting.[2] Previously in 2003, there were an estimated population of less than 20,000 individuals. In 2009, the Mongolian wild ass population has decreased to 14,000 total individuals.[3]

Taxonomy and etymology[edit]

The Mongolian wild ass may be synonymous with the possible proposed separate subspecies, the Gobi khulan (Equus hemionus luteus),[4] also called the chigetai, dziggetai or simply khulan, Mongolian: Хулан.[5]

Habitat and population[edit]

A Mongolian khulan at Gobi Desert, Mongolia.

The Mongolian wild ass, like most Asiatic wild asses, lives in deserts, cold deserts, steppes, shrublands and mountains. The Gobi Desert is the subspecies' main stronghold. It may also be found at the Altai Mountains.

The Mongolian wild ass is the most widespread subspecies, although despite that, the subspecies lost about 50% of its former distribution range in Mongolia in the past 70 years. The former range of the Asiatic wild ass in East Asia between the seventeenth and the middle of the nineteenth century encompassed the greater part of Mongolia, areas of Siberia and Manchuria, the western part of Inner Mongolia and the northern part of Xinjiang. Its distribution range then dramatically reduced during the 1990s. A 1994–1997 survey estimated its population size at 33,000 to 63,000 individuals over a continuous distribution range encompassing all of southern Mongolia.[6] In 2003, a new survey found approximately 20,000 individuals over an area of 177,563 square kilometres (68,557 sq mi) in southern Mongolia.[7] The species has been decreasing fast to 14,000 individuals in 2009. The population estimates of the Mongolian population should be treated with caution due to a lack of proven survey protocols.[8][9]

Biology and behavior[edit]

The Mongolian wild ass are herbivorous mammals. They feed on grasses, herbs and vegetation. They also feed on shrubs and trees in drier habitats. During spring and summer in Mongolia, the succulent plants of the Zygophyllaceae family form an important component of the diet of the Mongolian wild ass.

Mongolian khulans are known to dig holes at dry river beds and water sources to access to subsurface water to drink in response of the lack of water during hot summers in the Gobi Desert. Watering holes dug by khulans are also used by other species (wild and domestic) as well as by humans to access to water.[10]


The Mongolian wild ass population is declining due to poaching and competition from grazing livestock. The conservation status of the species is evaluated as endangered.[4]

The khulan are threatened by apex predators such as gray wolves, dholes and formerly by tigers that went extinct within the regions.

Poaching for meat appears to be an increasing problem in Mongolia. For some parts of the local population, wild ass and other wildlife meat seems to provide a substitute or even a cheap alternative to meat from domestic animals.[11] In 2005, a national survey based on questionnaires, suggested that as many as 4,500 wild asses, about 20% of the whole population, may be poached each year.[12] Moreover, political changes in the early 1990s allowed urban populations to return to nomadic land use, resulting in a sharp increase in human- and livestock numbers in many rural areas.[13][14][15]

Political and societal changes have disrupted traditional land use patterns, weakened law enforcement and also changed attitudes towards the use of natural resources, e.g., making wildlife an "open access" resource.[16] It is expected that the re-migration of people and their livestock will result in increased wildlife–human interactions and may well threaten the survival of rare wildlife species in the Gobi Desert.

Conservation actions[edit]

A Mongolian wild ass at Shanghai Zoo, China.

Since 1953, the Mongolian wild ass has been fully protected in Mongolia. The subspecies is also listed at appendix I of CITES (the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) and was added to appendix II of the Convention of Migratory Species in 2002.[17] However, due to human population growth in conjunction with severe winters in the past years,[18] the number of conflicts between herders and Mongolian wild asses appear on the increase. Information on the basic biology of the subspecies and how it differs from others is lacking, which hampers conservation efforts.[19]

In captivity[edit]

The Mongolian wild asses are rare in captivity in the world, though the captive animals are mostly found in China, such as in Beijing zoo, Shanghai zoo and Kunming zoo at Yunnan.

Related subspecies[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Colin Groves and Peter Grubb (1 November 2011). Ungulate Taxonomy. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-421-40093-8. 
  2. ^ Clark, B. and Duncan, P. (1992). "Asian Wild Asses - Hemiones and Kiangs (E. hemionus Pallas and E. kiang Moorcroft)", pp. 17–21. In: P. Duncan (ed.) Zebras, Asses, and Horses: An Action Plan for the Conservation of Wild Equids. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group.
  3. ^ "Mongolia’s Wild Asses Cornered From All Sides". 24 October 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  4. ^ a b P. D. Moehlman, N. Shah & C. Feh (2008). "Equus hemionus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved March 6, 2010. 
  5. ^ Porter, Valerie (ed.); Ian Lauder Mason (2002). Mason's World Dictionary of Livestock Breeds, Types, and Varieties (5th ed.). Wallingford: CABI. ISBN 085199430X. 
  6. ^ Richard P. Reading, Henry M. Mix, Badamjaviin Lhagvasuren, Claudia Feh, David P. Kane, S. Dulamtseren & Sumyain Enkhbold (2001). "Status and distribution of khulan (Equus hemionus) in Mongolia". Journal of Zoology 254 (3): 381–389. doi:10.1017/S0952836901000887. 
  7. ^ Mongolian Ministry of Nature and Environment. 2003. Status and distribution of the khulan in Mongolia in 2003. Unpublished report, Mongolian Ministry of Nature and Environment, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
  8. ^ S. T. Buckland, D. R. Anderson, K. P. Burnham, J. L. Laake, D. L. Borchers & L. Thomas, ed. (2001). Introduction to Distance Sampling. Estimating Abundance of Biological Populations. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 432. ISBN 9780198509271. 
  9. ^ Kaczensky P. and C. Walzer. 2002a, 2002b, 2003a, 2003b. Przewalski horses, wolves and khulans in Mongolia. Bi-annual progress reports. available from:
  10. ^ Anne-Camille SOURIS & Association Goviin Khulan,
  11. ^ P. Kaczensky & O. Gambatar unpubl. Data
  12. ^ J. Wingard unpubl. data
  13. ^ María E. Fernández-Giménez (1999). "Sustaining the steppes: a geographical history of pastoral land use in Mongolia". Geographical Review 89 (3): 315–342. doi:10.1111/j.1931-0846.1999.tb00222.x. 
  14. ^ Donald J. Bedunah & Sabine M. Schmidt (2004). "Pastoralism and protected area management in Mongolia's Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park". Development and Change 35 (1): 167–191. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7660.2004.00347.x. 
  15. ^ R. Mearns, D. Shombodon, G. Narangerel, U. Tuul, A. Enkhamgalan, B. Myagmarzhav, A. Bayanjargal & B. Bekhsuren (1994). "Natural resource mapping and seasonal variations and stresses in Mongolia" (PDF). RRA Notes 20: 95–105. 
  16. ^ D. G. Pratt, D. C. MacMillan & I. J. Gordon (2004). "Local community attitudes to wildlife utilisation in the changing economic and social context of Mongolia". Biodiversity and Conservation 13: 591–613. doi:10.1023/ 
  17. ^ CMS 2002. Convention on Migratory Species. Appendix II.
  18. ^ United Nations Disaster Management Team (UNDMT): National Civil Defense and State Emergency Commission Ulaanbaatar. 2000. DZUD 2000-Mongolia: An evolving ecological, social and economic disaster: A rapid needs assessment report. United Nations Disaster Management Team (UNDMT): National Civil Defense and State Emergency Commission Ulaanbaatar
  19. ^ "Asiatic Wild Ass   Equus hemionus". IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group.