Excitement is in the air at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, where hoofstock keepers are eagerly anticipating the births of three Persian onagers! Get to know this rare and endangered species in this Q&A with supervisory biologist and ungulates curator Dolores Reed.
What are your favorite facts about Persian onagers?
Onagers, in general, have very strong personalities. They are quite smart and irascible, so they often let keepers know what they are thinking in no uncertain terms! But, that also makes working with them and earning their trust a very rewarding part of our job.
One of their most amazing adaptations is their ability to withstand extreme temperatures. Persian onagers are native to the semi-desert region of Iran, where it can get up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. In this environment, leaves and grasses provide the onagers with most of the water they need to survive, which distinguishes them from other equine species. Whereas a Przewalski’s horse may drink up to 12 gallons of water a day, a Persian onagers may drink only 1.5 gallons.
One way to differentiate Asiatic wild asses from most domestic horses is by their “dun stripe”—a dark brown stripe that runs down their spine, from mane to tail. Persian onagers, Przewalski’s horses and domestic donkeys all have this trait.