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Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus onager)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 13257170

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 13257170) - Asiatic wild ass  - Awarded $6,000 on November 09, 2013

The Critically Endangered Persian wild ass or onager (Equus hemionus onager), had endured a drastic decline over the last 50 years due to habitat loss and direct and indirect conflicts with human activities. Numerous manifestations in Persian art and literature attest to the onagers’ historical abundance throughout Iran's arid and semi-arid steppes. Before 1950s onagers were widely distributed in the central and eastern arid and semi-aird plains of the country. But, this taxon is now restricted to two distantly located protected areas, Touran Biosphere Reserve (TBR) and Bahram-e-Gour Protected Area (BPA) with no more than a total of 500 individuals; and a few very small captive populations. Developing conservation strategies for this critically endangered subspecies of Asiatic wild ass is hindered by a poor understanding of its ecology in Iran and the factors most severely impacting its conservation. Reliable information on the distribution, movements, and habitat requirement are a prerequisite to develop efficient and of long-term conservation strategies.

Despite conservational attempts made by the Iranian Department of Environment (DoE), onager population in TBR has continuingly been declining. Promoting the core zone of BPA to Qatruiyeh National Park (QNP), providing water supplies and occasional provision of hay have stabilized the onager population in this reserve. However, one of the main concerns regarding the conservation of the onager population in this area is the seasonal emigration of an unknown, but considerable number of the animals. There have been reports of observing onagers north-east, south-east, and north of the BPA including reports of dead animals. However, it is not known whether these transitory animals are poached during their migration or return to the protected area. There is no information about migratory corridors or possible destinations to initiate or focus any protective efforts outside of QNP. There is an urgent need for evidence-based conservational practices to stop the extinction vortex for the remained populations.

The main aim of the study is to determine key habitat and potential sources of mortality of onagers in and around BPA. Although the species seems to slowly recover within the well protected core zone of the 36,000 ha QNP, the population is small and spatially confined thus remaining highly susceptible to local extinction.

By identifying key onager habitat and movement corridors we hope to characterize the existing onager habitat in BPA. This information is urgently needed as a basis for a landscape level conservation plan that would allow to coordinate land use planning and development on the one hand with onager conservation including potential onager re-introduction initiatives on the other hand. Key habitats will be suggested to DoE for protection or land use restrictions.

Identifying factors affecting onager survival within, near and in the surrounding of protected areas will allow focusing control and law enforcement actions: in space by focusing on potential conflict areas or in means by focusing on the underlying causes of onager mortality.


Project 13257170 location - Iran, Asia