The systematics of the Asian wild ass has not been completely resolved: some researchers assume that the eight different wild ass populations scattered across Asia are all subspecies of one single species, i.e. the Equus hemionus; others, however, categorise the Asiatic wild ass into up to three species, the Equus hemionus, the Equus khur and the Equus kiang. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) lists the Persian onager (E. h. onager) and Turkmenian kulan (E. h. Kulan) as "critically endangered"; the Indian khur (E. h. khur) is listed as "endangered", whereas the other subspecies such as the Mongolian dziggetai (E. h. hemionus), the Eastern kiang (E. h. holdereri), the Southern kiang (E. h. polyodon) and the Western kiang (E. h. kiang) are all classified as "vulnerable". The Syrian wild ass (E. h. hemippus) has become extinct.
Status in the Wild
Out of the three subspecies, the Eastern kiang (Kiang hemionus holdereri) is the most widespread; its distribution area lies in the northeastern highlands of the Chinese Himalaya regions. Today, there are about ten thousand kiangs living in the wild. However, experts do not agree on the kiang's level of endangerment; while some categorise it as "endangered", others do not consider it immediately threatened and list it under "lower risk". However, the kiang population has become increasingly scattered as a result of human pressure: there is a growing need for agricultural land and pastures to feed domestic livestock. The densest kiang populations are thus to be found on reserves and in military areas.
The first kiang couple was transported from China to Riga Zoo in 1957; between 1957 and 1990, twelve more animals were brought from China to the zoos of Riga, Moscow, San Diego, Munich and the Tierpark Berlin. Today there is a zoo population of 124 (47.77) kiangs (E. h. holdereri) outside of China, divided among nineteen different enclosures. There is no official information regarding the kiangs living in Chinese zoos.
The Asiatic wild ass is a survivalist: it settles in the most barren regions of our planet, where the more demanding wild horses cannot live. The kiang is of high biological value: it populates alpine steppes up to a height of 5'000 metres (over 16'000 feet), where only very robust and cold-resistant grasses grow. In order to be able to survive in such extreme regions, tremendous physiological adaptations are necessary; however, it remains unclear to researchers how these adaptations come about.
EAZA Equid TAG (Taxon Advisory Group) Recommendations
Experts assume that conserving nature is sufficient enough to support the kiang's wild population; additionally, the stock must be controlled regularly.
The Kiang and the Werner Stamm Foundation
The first kiang couple reached the enclosures of the Werner Stamm Foundation from Riga Zoo in 1992, at a time when its status in the wild was still unclear and it was feared that the subspecies was critically endangered. In the following fifteen years the Werner Stamm Foundation held a small breeding group of two mares and one stallion, from which fourteen foals descended: six stallions and eight mares. However, as the kiang is no longer considered endangered, and as the Werner Stamm Foundation wants to use its resources for the benefit of critically endangered species, we sadly had to part with these beautiful animals. The last animals were transported to the Réserve africaine de Sigean in France in 2008.