Asiatic Wild Ass Added to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Exhibit

Fri, 4/27/2012 - 4:41 PM

By Joe Yachanin

Cleveland, OH - Two female Persian onagers arrived at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Tuesday. This endangered subspecies of Asiatic wild ass has never been exhibited at the Zoo before. Zoo guests will be able to see them as they acclimate to their new home in Northern Trek.

The Zoo received the mother-daughter onagers from The Wilds, a private, nonprofit conservation center in southern Ohio. Onagers resemble domestic donkeys, but are heavier and larger, with full-grown males capable of reaching up to 6 feet long and weighing up to 600 pounds.

While Asiatic wild asses are found across the Middle East, India and Tibet, there are less than 1,000 of the Persian onager subspecies (Equus hemionus onager) left in the wild, mainly concentrated in two areas of Iran. They are classified as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to habitat loss and poaching.

Dr. Mandi Vick, the Zoo’s associate research curator, worked with onagers at The Wilds during her post-doctoral fellowship. She led a team in studying onager reproductive biology, which resulted in the first-ever successful artificial insemination of a non-domesticated equid anywhere in the world. The idea is to use this technique to increase breeding efforts that will contribute to a more sustainable population.

“These female onagers are important ambassadors for their kind, since less than a thousand remain in the wild,” Vick said. “Onagers in zoos serve as an insurance policy against catastrophic loss in the wild, and their arrival at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo signifies the efforts of zoos in Ohio and around the world to work together to promote the long-term sustainability and survival of this endangered species.”

In the wild, onagers graze on grass when it’s available but will subside on woody plants and seed pods during dry spells. They are also adapted to living in extreme temperatures. They can survive in the desert in temperatures up to 120 degrees, or grow a thick, dense coat for harsh winters.

Northeast Ohio’s most-visited year-round attraction, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $12.25 per person, $8.25 for kids ages 2 to 11 and free for children younger than 2 and Zoo members. Parking is free. Located at 3900 Wildlife Way, the Zoo is easily accessible from Interstates 71, 90 and 480.

For more information, visit or call (216) 661-6500.

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