Hemione, a wild donkey widespread in Asia


A crossed portrait in a few words: the hemione is a donkey that has the size of a small horse and the indomitable character of the zebra! The fastest of the wild equines shows an unfailing resistance to the harsh conditions of life in the desert steppes of Asia. Zoom on a little-known and endangered mammal disappearance.

5 species of hemiones including 1 extinct

The hemione (Equus hemionus), also called evening primrose or wild ass of Asia, is a herbivorous mammal belonging to the order Perissodactyla and to the family of equines. The current classification recognizes five subspecies :

  • Mongolian Hemione (Equus hemionus hemionus). It alone represents nearly 80% of the total population of the species;
  • Turkmen Kulan (Equus hemionus kulan): Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan;
  • Persian Evening Primrose (Equus hemionus onager): Iran;
  • Khur (Equus hemionus khur): north-west India;
  • Hemippus (Equus hemionus hemippus): Syria and the Arabian Peninsula, a subspecies extinct in 1927.

A long black stripe on the back

This big ungulate measures over 2 meters long, 1.2 meters at the withers and weighs an average of 260 kg. The hemione takes on a light beige coat in winter and reddish brown in summer. The belly, rump and muzzle are white, and a broad black dorsal band follows its spine. The mane and tail are dark brown.

Vegetables and a little water for the hemione

Like all equines, the hemione is a mammal herbivorous. It grazes on grass, leaves of trees and shrubs, fruits and woody vegetation (and saline when there is any). The different species live in environments arid always located within 30 km of a water source. If this is not available (drying up), the animal knows how to dig a hole in the beds of dry rivers to access underground water. Adapted to desert life, the mammal is able to spend several days without drinking, but does not equal the resistance of the camel. In cold areas, the hemione becomes hydrated by eating snow.

The arid habitat of the hemione

About 40,000 years ago, the range of the hemione extended to westernGermany but it has shrunk considerably. Today, the Mongolian wild ass, the most widespread subspecies, lives only in southern Mongolia and a few Chinese provinces. Established in areas desert or semi-desert, the equine frequents mainly steppes and mountainous environments.

The hemione lives in small tribes

Social and dominant at a time, the stallion leads a group of a dozen individuals composed of a modest harem females, young and non-breeding males. Its domain can reach 20 km² and overlap with the territory of congeners. As for the males singles, they live in clans of two or three members. Like its cousin the zebra, the hemione does not allow itself to be tamed because it is far too wild and fearful. To organize the protection of the herd, the animal uses its keen eyesight: thus, a sentinel constantly scans the horizon while his comrades graze or rest. In case of danger, the animal is able to reach 70 km / h, a speed record for an equine.

Baby hemione gets up very early!

The breeding season is from April to October. If the hemione reaches its sexual maturity at 2 years old, they usually do not mate until they are 3 or 4 years old. During the birthing season (April to September), females tend to form small groups of 2 to 5 members, to which the young of the year are grafted. At the end of a gestation one year old, the female gives birth to a single calf, which can stand up and start sucking within 20 minutes of giving birth.

Hemione, a highly endangered species

The main ones predators of hemione include leopards, hyenas and the gray wolf living in Asia, to which are added the crocodiles when the equine crosses rivers during the migratory season. In the event of a threat, however, the mammal can defend itself by inflicting violent hoof blows on its assailant. However, man remains his worst enemy, the poaching for its skin, its flesh and traditional medicine. The wild ass is also a victim of the decline in its habitat due to human activities (culture, urbanization, etc.) while the overgrazing reduces the availability of food and water, resources allocated to livestock.

Conservation measures for hemione

Hemione is now considered an endangered species and listed as such in the category In danger on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Safeguard measures have been taken in Mongolia, Turkmenistan, Iran and India where the animal is penned in vast protected areas where artificial water points have been dug, food provided and poaching punished with heavy fines. At the same time, various projects of reintroduction have been carried out or are in progress, in particular in the desert of the Israeli Negev or in Uzbekistan. In the wild, the mammal can live up to 14 years and 26 years in captivity.

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