Onagers

I’ve been watching a TV programme which goes behind the scenes at one of the UK’s biggest zoos, “The Secret Life of the Zoo”. It’s very good: plenty of baby animals to coo over, including surprisingly cute baby black rhinos, and lots of interesting facts about the various animals.

One animal which piqued my interest was the equid. I’d never heard of Onagers, a wild and endangered equine.

Onagers are also known as the Asiatic Wild Ass, a name I am more familiar with. Anyway, the programme caused me to do a bit of reading about these endangered equines.

Onagers look like miniature horses, not donkeys like other asses do, and grow up to about 14hh. They have either a reddish brown or yellowish brown coat, with a dorsal stripe. Unusually for equines, they have never been domesticated and are known for being very skittish characters, and are one of the fastest in the equine family – they gallop at speeds of 64-70 miles per hour!

Onagers consist of five subspecies, and are from Asia; they used to be found all across the continent but now are only found in arid and desert regions towards the south of Asia. As with many other large grazing animals, the onagers have suffered with reduced habitats and poaching, so were listed as endangered until 2015 when they were reclassified as Near Threatened, which shows that the zoo breeding programs have been successful. One subspecies is extinct, two endangered and two near threatened. The Persian Onagers are currently being reintroduced in to the Middle East to replant Syrian Wild Asses, which are now extinct, in the Arabic peninsula ecosystem.

As with other equids, such as horses and zebras, Onagers are social animals and live in herds. There is usually one stallion with a hareem of mares in a herd, and each herd tends to be territorial. Mares can breed from two years old, and as with horses, the gestation period is eleven months, with births occurring from April to September.

Wild Onagers live up to fourteen years of age, but they can live into their mid twenties in captivity.

Their diet is similar to that of horses and zebras; Onagers eat grass, herbs, fruits and leaves, and also browse on shrubs and trees in drier territories. Onagers are prey animals, and are hunted by apex predators such as leopards, hyenas, tigers and wild dogs. Together with the reduction of their habitat, heavy droughts, and being hunted for meat and hide the population of Onagers is reducing rapidly.

Maybe I’ll organise a visit to see these captive Onagers in the flesh!

The Wild Horses of Kefalonia

Last week we were on holiday in Kefalonia. Now, my lovely husband decided to organise a surprise for me. However, he forgot two vital components.

1) it is impossible to keep secrets from me. I knew he was planning to propose at least a week before he actually did it. I’m also the person who took one look at all my carefully wrapped presents that he’d bought, and guessed them all instantly. Now he just tells me.

2) he’s rubbish at keeping secrets. When he was planning his proposal he kept asking me if I thought a particular place was romantic. Which may have led to point number one, if I hadn’t already guessed by the fact he spent eight hours shopping and only bought a pair of swim shorts. When he has other secrets he just dances around singing excitedly.

Anyway, I digress. In a nutshell, I had guessed the surprise before he even told me that he had a surprise.

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a mission this surprise, with a small success rate.

We were going to drive up to Kefalonia’s National Park to try and see the wild horses. Unfortunately though, the day we were going to drive up Mount Ainos was the foggiest morning, and after getting halfway up and being engulfed in cloud we decided to turn around and go back to the beach.

I did spot some horse droppings on the way home, so I had proof that they existed.

I had done some research about these wild horses, although there is very little online about them. But I thought I’d share it with you anyway.

There was a tradition amongst the locals in Kefalonia to keep there horses running free on the mountains. I guess in a similar fashion to the Exmoor or New Forest ponies. This kept keeping and feeding costs down. However, during and after the Second World War the horses were abandoned and have since become feral. The horses are hardy, very similar to the Pindos breed – which you can read up about here.

There used to be numerous herds of horses on Mount Ainos, but their numbers have decreased drastically over the last few years and now there is only one herd, of some fifteen individuals. There are concerns about the Ainos horses becoming extinct, particularly as they are believed to have evolved to become a separate breed to the Pindos pony, and may have different genetic material, which could make them invaluable for improving the quality of the recently degenerating Pindos breed. Which reminded me of the Carneddau pony, that is genetically different to the Welsh Section A.

There are plenty of accounts online by people who have hiked successfully to the monastery on Mount Ainos and spotted the wild horses, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be for us. It will be interesting to know if anything is done to help prevent the horses from becoming extinct, and if research is done to find out more about their genes, and whether they are a breed in their own right.

Meanwhile, here are another couple of shots of the stunning scenery we saw whilst touring the island.