Equus hemionus hemippus


Kingdom Animalia

Syrian Wild Ass in London Zoo. Photographed by Frederick York in 1872. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to the European Union, Canada, the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

Phylum Chordata 
Class Mammalia
Order Perissodactyla
Family Equidae
Authority (Geoffroy Saint Hilaire, 1855)
English Name Syrian Wild Ass, Syrian Onager, Hemippe
Dutch Name Syrische Halfezel
Finnish Name Syyrianvilliaasi
French Name Âne Sauvage de Syrie, Onagre de Syrie, Hémippe
German Name Syrischer Halbesel
Italian Name Asino Selvatico Siriano
Polish Name Onager Syryjski, Kułan Syryjski
Spanish Name Asno Salvaje Sirio, Onagro Sirio

Equus hemippus Geoffroy Saint Hilaire 1855; Equus hemionus syriacus Milne-Edwards 1869

Taxonomy Revised by Groves and Mazák (1967), Groves (1986), and Schlawe (1986), who included onager in hemionus. Bennett (1980) considered onager (including hemippus, khur, and kulan) to be a distinct species (Wilson and Reeder 2005). Grubb in Wilson and Reeder (1993) treated this animal as Equus onager hemippus. Today it is regarded as Equus hemionus hemippus. (Wilson and Reeder 2005; Moehlman & Feh 2002; Nowak 1999)
Characteristics The Syrian Wild Ass was the smallest form of recent Equidae. The general colour of the male is "avellaneous" (hazel or pale grey tinged with pink), becoming a sort of mouse grey with age; the colour is lightest on the head, darkest on the haunches; a light area in front of hips; buttocks, belly, and inner side of legs dirty greyish white; outer side of legs, lower side of neck, and outer surface of ears "tilleul buff"; tips of ears originally dark brown, later almost white; mane rather long, "natal brown"; vertebral stripe, of the same colour, extending from the mane to the tail tuft, and bordered by a lighter area; area above the nostrils greyish white; nostrils very large and nasal region swollen. Height at shoulder, 1 meter. The general colour of the female is between avellaneous and fawn colour; buttocks and lower parts pure white; outer side of legs and ears "pinkish buff"; tips of latter scarcely darker. Height at shoulder, 1 meter. (Harper 1945)
Range & Habitat The Syrian Wild Ass formerly occupied the region from Palestine to Iraq (Nowak 1999; Moehlman & Feh 2002).
History & Population The Syrian Wild Ass was still common and had a wide range during the 16th and 17th century. John Eldred saw wild asses between Hit and Aleppo in 1584, Cartwright in 1603 beheld "every day great droves of wild beasts, as wild asses all white," this was not far from Ana on the Euphrates. In 1625, the Italian traveller Della Valle described a captive "wild ass or onager" in Basra, southern Iraq. (Harper 1945)

It would appear that the Wild Ass disappeared from the Syrian Desert during the 18th century, and was exterminated in Northern Arabia during the 19th. In 1850 the Syrian Wild Ass was becoming scarce in the Syrian desert and Palestine, but according to the Englishman Canon Tristram, was still common in Mesopotamia and could be seen in the summer travelling in great white herds as far as the Armenian mountains. Its last refuge appears to have been in the lava country to the south-east of Jabal ad-Duruz, an elevated volcanic region in southern Syria, in the As-Suwayda Governorate. (Day 1981; Harper 1945)

Many state that the Syrian Wild Ass became extinct when the last known captive animal died in Vienna Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn) in 1927 (Groves 1974, Clark and Duncan 1992; Moehlman & Feh 2002), while Antonius (1928) still recorded a male that had been received in 1911 from the "desert north of Aleppo," Syria, and was still living in the Vienna Zoo in 1928 (Harper 1945). The last wild animals disappeared at around the same time (Harrison 1968). It is said that the last wild Syrian Wild Ass was shot in 1927 as it came down for water at the Al Ghams oasis not far from Lake Azrak in the Sirhan depression of North Arabia (Day 1981).

Extinction Causes The Syrian Wild Ass became severely threatened with World War I. The whole area was overrun with heavily armed Turks, Bedouin and British troops. During this time the automobile began to replace the camel and train in opening the deserts. According to Antonius (1938), "it could not resist the power of the modern guns in the hands of the Anazeh and Shammar nomads, and its speed, great as it may have been, was not sufficient always to escape from the velocity of the modern motor car which more and more is replacing the Old Testament Camel-Caravan." (Day 1981; Harper 1945)
Museum Specimens The British Museum has a specimen from Mesopotamia, presented by Layard before 1852, and a Syrian specimen, received from the Zoological Society of London in 1867. No modern zoologist seems to have met with this subspecies in the field, and wild-killed animals are evidently among the rarest of all museum specimens. (Harper 1945)
Relatives The closest living relatives are the surviving subspecies of the Asian Wild Ass (Equus hemionus): the Mongolian Wild Ass Equus hemionus hemionus, Equus hemionus blanfordi, Indian Wild Ass Equus hemionus khur, Turmenian Kulan Equus hemionus kulan, Gobi Kulan Equus hemionus luteus, Persian Onager Equus hemionus onager. (Wilson and Reeder 2005; IUCN 2007)

Syrian Wild Ass - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Extinction: Syrian Wild Ass UWSP GEOG358 [Heywood]

References Antonius, O. 1928. Beobachtungen an Einhufern in Schonbrunn. I. Der syrische Halbesel (Equus hemionus hemippus I. Geoffr.). Zool. Garten, vol. 1, nos. 1-2, pp. 19-25, 5 fig.

Antonius, O. 1938. On the geographical distribution, in former times and to-day, of the Recent Equidae. Proc. Zool. Soc. London 1937, vol. 107, ser. B, pp. 557-564.

Clark, B. and Duncan, P. 1992. Asian Wild Asses - Hemiones and Kiangs (E. hemionus Pallas and E. kiang Moorcroft). In: P. Duncan (ed.) Zebras, Asses, and Horses. An Action Plan for the Conservation of Wild Equids. IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. pp. 17-21.

Day, D., 1981, The Doomsday Book of Animals, Ebury Press, London.

Groves, C.P. 1974. Horses, Asses and Zebras in the Wild. Ralph Curtis Books, Hollywood, Florida.

Harper, F. 1945. Extinct and Vanishing Mammals of the Old World. Special Publication No. 12, American Committee for International Wild Life Protection, New York Zoological Park, New York 60, N.Y.

Harrison, D.L. 1968. The mammals of Arabia. Vol. 2. Ernest Benn, London.

IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 24 January 2008.

Moehlman, P. & Feh, C. 2002. Equus hemionus ssp. hemippus. In: IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 24 January 2008.

Nowak, R.M. (ed.) 1999. Walkers Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (editors). 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (editors). 2005. Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd edition), Johns Hopkins University Press, 2,142 pp. (Available online)

Last updated: 26th January 2008.

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