Syrian wild ass

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Syrian wild ass
SyrianWildAss-London Zoo.jpg
A Syrian wild ass in London Zoo, 1872

Extinct  (1927) (IUCN 3.1)[1]
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus: Equus
E. h. hemippus
Trinomial name
Equus hemionus hemippus
Geoffroy, 1855

Equus hemionus syriacus
(Milne-Edwards, 1869)

The Syrian wild ass (Equus hemionus hemippus), less commonly known as a hemippe,[2] an achdari, or a Mesopotamian or Syrian onager,[3] is an extinct subspecies of onager native to the Arabian peninsula. It ranged across present-day Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey.


The Syrian wild ass, only one metre high at its shoulder,[4] was the smallest form of Equidae and could not be domesticated.[5] Its coloring changed with the seasons—a tawny olive coat for the summer months and pale sandy yellow for the winter.[4][6] It was known, like other onagers, to be untameable, and was compared to a thoroughbred horse for its beauty and strength.[5]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Galloping specimen in Tiergarten Schönbrunn, 1915.
Assyrians lassoing a wild ass.

The Syrian wild ass lived in deserts, semi-deserts, arid grasslands and mountain steppes. Native to West Asia, they were found in Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Ecology and behavior[edit]


The Syrian wild ass was a grazer. It fed on grass, herbs, leaves, shrubs and tree branches.


Syrian wild asses were preyed upon by Asiatic lions,[7][8] Arabian leopards, striped hyenas, grey wolves and Caspian tigers. Asiatic cheetahs may have preyed on onager foals.


European travelers in the Middle East during the 15th and 16th centuries reported seeing large herds.[9] However, its numbers began to drop precipitously during the 18th and 19th centuries due to overhunting, and its existence was further imperiled by the regional upheaval of World War I. The last known wild specimen was fatally shot in 1927 at al Ghams near the Azraq oasis in Jordan, and the last captive specimen died the same year at the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, in Vienna.[10]


After the extinction of the Syrian wild ass, the Persian onager from Iran was chosen as the appropriate subspecies to replace the extinct onagers in the Middle East. The Persian onager was then introduced to the protected areas of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. It was also reintroduced, along with the Turkmenian kulan, to Israel, where they both reproduce wild ass hybrids in the Negev Mountains and the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve.

Cultural references[edit]

Related subspecies[edit]


  1. ^ Moehlman, P. & Feh, C. (2002). "Equus hemionus ssp. hemippus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2002.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  2. ^ "hemippe",, Merriam-Webster, 2013, retrieved 2013-02-06
  3. ^ Valerie Porter, Lawrence Alderson, Stephen J.G. Hall, D. Phillip Sponenberg (2016). Mason's World Encyclopedia of Livestock Breeds and Breeding. CABI. p. 48. ISBN 9781845934668.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b Harper, Francis (1945), "Syrian Wild Ass", Extinct and Vanishing Mammals of the Old World, New York: American Committee for International Wild Life Protection, pp. 367–371, LCCN 46000560, retrieved 2013-02-07
  5. ^ a b Samuel Sidney (1893). The Book of the Horse. Cassell & Co. Ltd. p. 180.
  6. ^ Mazin B. Qumsiyeh (1996). Mammals of the Holy Land. Texas Tech University Press. p. 191. ISBN 0-89672-364-X. syrian wild ass.
  7. ^ a b Quran 74:41–51
  8. ^ a b Khalaf-von Jaffa, N.A.B.A.T. (2006). "The Asiatic or Persian Lion (Panthera leo persica, Meyer 1826) in Palestine and the Arabian and Islamic Region". Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on 2007-11-12. Retrieved 2016-12-21.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  9. ^ a b G. Johannes Botterweck; Helmer Ringgren & Heinz-Josef Fabry (2003). Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Volume 12. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. pp. 73–76. ISBN 0-8028-2336-X.
  10. ^ Peter Maas. "Equus hemionus hemippus". The Extinction Website. Archived from the original on 2010-05-06. Retrieved 2009-11-20.