Asses live in desert or semi-desert areas, steppeland (grassy plains) and mountainous regions. They prefer hilly areas but will come down into the valleys to avoid dust and snow storms.


Asiatic Wild Ass © Roni G CC BY-ND 2.0The Asiatic Wild Ass


Family: Equidae

Species: Equus hemionus

IUCN Red List Status: Endangered

In 2020, The Asiatic Wild Ass was 'Near Threatened' but their numbers were stable.

Habitat: Asses live in desert or semi-desert areas, steppeland (grassy plains) and mountainous regions. They prefer hilly areas but will come down into the valleys to avoid dust and snow storms.

Size: Shoulder height - 1.1 - 1.2 m

Weight: 160-260 kg

Life Span: about 28 years

Gestation: 11-12 months (one foal only)

Distribution: Southern and south-western Mongolia

The Mongolian Wild Ass

All of the overview details relate to the 'typical' race of Asiatic wild ass which lives in Mongolia. The Mongolian wild ass (or kulan) is also known as the dziggetai. It inhabits the steppelands of southern and south-western Mongolia, although it may also exist across the frontier in the Chinese province of Sinkiang.

The Mongolian ass is one of four very similar races of the Asiatic wild ass still surviving in the remoter regions of the vast continent of Asia.  The last report on a fifth race, the Syrian wild ass, by the IUCN Red List, was conducted in 2015 and pronounced the species extinct.

The three other races include the following:

  • The Tibetan wild ass: (or kiang) is scattered through the high mountainous plateau of Tibet.
  • The Persian wild ass: (or onager) may be found in very small numbers Iran.
  • The Indian wild ass: (also known as the chor-khar or khur) is now seriously endangered, and the last survivors of this race are now restricted to a small area in Gujarat, India.


There are slight variations of colouring among the races of wild ass but generally they have a greyish or brownish coat with a pale muzzle, belly and flanks. They have a coarse, erect, darker mane and a fairly short tufted tail with a black tip. Their legs are often lightly striped like a zebra and they have long ears.

African Wild Ass

African Asses are now classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. As few as 70 individuals have been recorded in Ethiopia and Eritrea, though up to 600 could exist in these two countries.

The African Wild Ass is an ancestor of the domestic donkey.  It's threats include interbreeding with domestic donkeys, hunting for meat and medicinal purposes and disappearance of habitat and competition with commercial livestock.  You can find out more at the IUCN website.


Ass (Asiatic Wild)They are very wary animals and do not like to be approached so they avoid human communities. They live in small groups of 6-12 animals consisting of an adult male (a stallion), several females and their young (up to 2 years old). In the autumn and winter these small groups come together to form a herd of several hundred animals.


This herding is possible because it is in the winter that the desert plants flourish providing the asses with lots of food and moisture. It is during the summer that they have to disperse again in order to seek water and the more scant vegetation. During the summer months they never move more than about seven or eight miles from water. Their diet therefore varies throughout the year from grasses and sedges in the spring to herbs such as the tansy and bushes.


A female ass (mare) is ready to breed at two to three years old. She is then likely to have one foal every two years. The rut or courtship takes place in spring or summer depending on the region. The stallions become very excited, racing around and fighting before mating with the females. The foals are born eleven or twelve months later.


During the seventeenth century the range of the Asiatic wild ass stretched from the Yellow River of northern China in the east to the Black Sea in the west. Their numbers have been in a decline for centuries although their rate of decline has increased dramatically over the last fifty years. The animal has been prized as a source of excellent meat and it has been used for centuries for domestic and draft work. It was also, because of its speed and endurance, a prime target for hunters anxious to prove their skill with a bow, spear or, in more recent times, a gun. Parts of the animal are used for a wide variety of purposes - both medicinal and magical - and its hide has also been in great demand.


Image: Ass by Sumeet Moghe

Information sourced from:

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2015), Equus hemionus ssp. Hemippus [online], Available from: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/7962/0 [accessed 21/05/2015].

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