The Equus family is larger and more diverse than you may think. Each member with its own distinct look and coloring.
As I started delving into the equus family tree I realized just how colorful and beautiful these animals really are. I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite & sad to see so many of them in danger for their lives.
There are far too many colors to put in one post, so I’ve separated into sections. Today we’ll meet the horses, asses and onagers & next week the zebras.
These two groups contain all of the color & some of the most (and least) common members of the Equus family.
Also known as the European Wild Horse or the the Eastern European Horse and is now extinct. They were once found throughout the steppe region of eastern Europe and western Eurasia. However their widespread range led to their demise, they were slowly gobbled up by domestication & crossbreeding.
It is thought that the Tarpan died out early in the 19th century.
The last of the true wild horses (after the demise of the Tarpan), the Mongolian Wild Horse or Przewalski’s Horse is the only surviving ancestor of domestic horse as we know them today. These animals used to range from eastern Europe through Russia, Mongolia & China, they can now be found in a zoo near you.
Due to hunting, loss of habitat and competition for resources with domestic animals the Mongolian Wild Horse is critically endangered.
Far from extinct, the domestic horse has flourished into a wide variety of unique breeds & colors. People began domesticating horses around 4000 B.C. and today wild horses on every continent (with the exception of the Mongolian Wild Horse) are all descendant from domesticated stock.
The Nubian Wild Ass is thought to be the ancestor of domestic donkeys. In addition to displaying dun characteristics, they also carry a stripe across their shoulder which is common with domestic donkeys. These animals were found in the northeast of Africa and are said to have first been domesticated around 6,000 years ago in Egypt or Mesopotamia.
The Nubian Wild Ass is listed as critically endangered and most likely totally extinct in the wild.
A very close relative to the Nubian Ass, the Somali Wild Ass is the smallest of the wild equids. They share physical characteristics of their brothers however they carry a unique feature, dark black striping on their legs, belying their close relation to the zebras. Believe it or not, these animals are more at risk from hunting than any other threat, although destruction of habitat and competition for scarce resources are major factors.
The Somali Wild Ass is listed as critically endangered & virtually extinct in the wild.
Also called a burro in some parts of the world, the domestic Donkey can be found around the globe. First domesticated around 3000 B.C. they have spread into a wide range of breeds, colors & shapes. Although all of the subspecies can interbreed, (a post for another day) generally their offspring are barren & unable to reproduce.
The Mongolian Wild Ass can be still be found in small pockets in Mongolia & northern China, they are now extinct in Kazakhstan. The main threat to these animals is hunting, they provide a cheap alternative for domestic meat to local people. Despite their protection under law in Mongolia, (and their dwindling numbers) the persistent hunting & loss of habitat is a serious threat to this subspecies.
The Mongolian Wild Ass has lost about 50% of its former range in the past 70 years and is listed as a vulnerable species.
The Syrian Wild Ass is now extinct but were once found in the region from Palestine to Iraq. These animals were common during the 16th & 17th century and traveled in large herds. However by the 18th century they had disappeared from the Syrian Desert & by the early 19th century Northern Arabia too.
The last of the Syrian Wild Ass subspecies was extinguished completely early in the 20th century.
The Indian Wild Ass used to be found from western India, through Afghanistan and southeastern Iran. Today they can only be found in the Gujarat provence in the Rann of Kutch (mainly because there is an ass sanctuary there). The drop in their numbers is in large part due to disease, however habitat degradation and competition with domestic stock play their parts too.
The Indian Wild Ass is listed as endangered, although conservation efforts have been beneficial.
The Turkmenian Kulan can be found in a variety of habitats from Iran to Mongolia and were abundant in the wild until relatively recently. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union their numbers have dropped dramatically.
I had difficulty locating any listing information for the Turkmenian Kulan, if anyone knows, please share in the comments.
The Persian Onager can be found from Mongolia to Saudi Arabia to southern Russia & Kazakhstan to northwestern India & Tibet. They have no natural predators, but humans have done a good job of destroying their numbers. Hunting, competition for food & resources and degradation of habitat are all taking their toll.
The Persian Onager was once considered their own species, today they are a critically endangered subspecies.
Perhaps one of the most populous of the wild asses, the Kiang is widely distributed through Tibet, regions of China, Nepal & India. Three subspecies have been defined in different ranges, however their taxonomy is still controversial and unsure. The Kiang is the largest of the wild ass species and their only natural predator is the wolf. Humans hunt them for meat & their skin which is used for leather.
The Kiang is lower risk than most of this page, however they face the same issues if conservation efforts aren’t enforced.
A Big Family
This is just half of the family (if you don’t count hybrid cousins, that is) so be sure to check back next week when we meet the zebras. You may just be surprised at how many different stripes there can be!