Equus hemionus (Pallas 1775) Onager, Asiatic Wild Ass
Hebrew name: פרא, pere
Global Threat: VU (A2c) – Vulnerable
Regional Threat: EN (B, D) – Endangered
Distribution area: Three pairs of Iranian onagers (E. h. onager) were brought to the breeding nucleus in the Hai-Bar reserve along with a number of onagers belonging to the Turkestani subspecies (E. h. kulan), (Mendelssohn & Yom-Tov 1988). Reintroduction to the wild began in 1982 at En Saharonim in Makhtesh Ramon. In 1992 reintroductions began in the Be’er Ada area (Nahal Paran) and in 1977 another group was released in Mt. Arif west of Makhtesh Ramon. Onagers range as far north as Ezuz and Be’erot Loz, east to En Shahaq and Mo’a and south to Nahal Zenifim (Saltz, pers. comm.). The area occupied by onagers reaches ca. 3500 km2. The onager reintroduction project is currently in its successful final stages.
Historic distribution: The onager is mentioned nine times in the Bible, as a desert species (Jeremiah 2:24). At the end of the 15th century the traveler Felix Fabri reported a herd of onagers near Jericho (Paz 1980). Tristram (1884, 1866) wrote that onagers, very common in Iraq (Mesopotamia), could still be found in Ledjah and Huran (Syria), but only rarely spread into northern Palestine (Qumsiyeh 1996). The last specimen in our area was shot in Jordan in 1920, and the last specimens of the Middle Eastern subspecies E. h. hemippus, were shot in northern Syria and Iraq in the 1930s (Mendelssohn & Yom-Tov 1988).
Typical Habitat: Open desert landscapes, wadis with abundant shrubs and grasses and permanent water sources.
Threat and Disturbance Factors:
1. Hunting (in the past).
2. Possible hybridization with the domestic ass (there is evidence of this from Ezuz near Nizzana).
Population Size Estimate: There are about 100 onagers in nature today (Saltz, pers. comm.), and circa twenty individuals in the Yotvata Hai-Bar (Bear, pers. comm.).
Fluctuations in Population Size: Since 1982 the population in the wild has increased through natural reproduction and additional releases of onagers brought in from the Hai-Bar.
Isolation between Subpopulations: Unknown.
Necessary Steps for Species Preservation:
1. Continued monitoring of the population and its composition in nature.
2. Maintaining a small breeding nucleus at the Hai-Bar as backup for population in nature.