Onagers

I’ve been watching a TV programme which goes behind the scenes at one of the UK’s biggest zoos, “The Secret Life of the Zoo”. It’s very good: plenty of baby animals to coo over, including surprisingly cute baby black rhinos, and lots of interesting facts about the various animals.

One animal which piqued my interest was the equid. I’d never heard of Onagers, a wild and endangered equine.

Onagers are also known as the Asiatic Wild Ass, a name I am more familiar with. Anyway, the programme caused me to do a bit of reading about these endangered equines.

Onagers look like miniature horses, not donkeys like other asses do, and grow up to about 14hh. They have either a reddish brown or yellowish brown coat, with a dorsal stripe. Unusually for equines, they have never been domesticated and are known for being very skittish characters, and are one of the fastest in the equine family – they gallop at speeds of 64-70 miles per hour!

Onagers consist of five subspecies, and are from Asia; they used to be found all across the continent but now are only found in arid and desert regions towards the south of Asia. As with many other large grazing animals, the onagers have suffered with reduced habitats and poaching, so were listed as endangered until 2015 when they were reclassified as Near Threatened, which shows that the zoo breeding programs have been successful. One subspecies is extinct, two endangered and two near threatened. The Persian Onagers are currently being reintroduced in to the Middle East to replant Syrian Wild Asses, which are now extinct, in the Arabic peninsula ecosystem.

As with other equids, such as horses and zebras, Onagers are social animals and live in herds. There is usually one stallion with a hareem of mares in a herd, and each herd tends to be territorial. Mares can breed from two years old, and as with horses, the gestation period is eleven months, with births occurring from April to September.

Wild Onagers live up to fourteen years of age, but they can live into their mid twenties in captivity.

Their diet is similar to that of horses and zebras; Onagers eat grass, herbs, fruits and leaves, and also browse on shrubs and trees in drier territories. Onagers are prey animals, and are hunted by apex predators such as leopards, hyenas, tigers and wild dogs. Together with the reduction of their habitat, heavy droughts, and being hunted for meat and hide the population of Onagers is reducing rapidly.

Maybe I’ll organise a visit to see these captive Onagers in the flesh!