Jump to: navigation, search


Turkmenian Kulan (Equus hemionus kulan) at Korkeasaari Zoo.
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus: Equus
Subgenus: Asinus
Species: E. hemionus
Binomial name
Equus hemionus
Pallas, 1775
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 and Tibet. It is sometimes known as the Wild Asian Ass.

Like many other large grazing animals, the onager's range has contracted greatly under the pressures of hunting and habitat loss, and of the six subspecies, one is extinct and two are endangered. 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.

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 include 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. They are notoriously untameable. Equids were used in ancient Sumer to pull wagons circa 2600 BC, and then chariots on the Standard of Ur, circa 2000 BC. Clutton-Brock suggested that these were donkeys rather than onagers on the basis of a "shoulder stripe" (1992:88). 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 harness, trapping, or a joint in the inlay. For Sumerian references to onagers, see Heimpel (1968) and Maekawa (1979).



  • Turkmenian Kulan, Equus hemionus kulan
  • Persian Onager ("gur"), Equus hemionus onager

See also



  • Moehlman, Shah & Feh (2008). Equus hemionus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 14 Oct 2008. Database entry includes justification for why this species is Endangered
  • 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.
  • Moehlman, P. & Feh, C. 2002. Equus hemionus. In: IUCN 2004. 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 21 January 2006.
  • Clutton-Brock, Juliet (1992). Horse Power: A History of the Horse and the Donkey in Human Societies. USA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674406469. 
  • Heimpel, Wolfgang (1968). Tierbilder in der Sumerische Literatur. 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.

External links


Premier Equine Classifieds


Subscribe to our newsletter and keep abreast of the latest news, articles and information delivered directly to your inbox.

Did You Know?

Modern horse breeds developed in response to a need for "form to function", the necessity to develop certain physical characteristics in order to perform a certain type of work... More...

The Gypsy Cob was originally bred to be a wagon horse and pulled wagons or caravans known as Vardos; a type of covered wagon that people lived in... More...

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Arabian horse bloodline dates back 4,500 years. Throughout history, Arabian horses spread around the world by both war and trade.... More...

That the term "Sporthorse" is a term used to describe a type of horse rather than any particular breed... More...