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All About the Persian Onager

I'm an animal lover interested in topics related to protecting wildlife and natural habitats.

Learn all about the Persian Onager.

Learn all about the Persian Onager.

The Persian Onager

As someone who loves horses, I’ve always been fascinated by the beautiful Persian Onager and have spent time learning about them and the ongoing international efforts taking place to increase the population of this endangered species.

Here are the main topics covered in this article:

  • The Onager: An Overview
  • Persian Onager Facts
  • Current Conservation Status
  • The Future of This Species
  • Interesting Things to Know
  • A list of zoos and wildlife parks where you can see this horse
A Persian Onager mother and foal.

A Persian Onager mother and foal.

The Onager: An Overview

Native to Iran, this species was once common throughout Central Asia and the Middle East (The Wilds 2018), but now the population is endangered, and only an estimated 600 to 700 individuals are left in the world today (Columbus Zoo and Aquarium 2018).

Currently, the majority of the Onagers in the wild live in two protected areas in Iran (Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute 2018), and less than a hundred live at zoos around the globe (Righthand 2010).

At first glance, one might confuse them with a donkey, but they’re actually a subspecies of the Asiatic wild horse. Onagers have a distinct appearance with buff color coats and a lighter color on their legs and stomach. They have a brown dorsal stripe along their back and a short brown mane that stands up straight. Their medium-length tail has a tuft that starts partway down. In warm weather, their coat is short but becomes thick in the winter for protection from the cold.

This Onager has a thick coat from the winter.

This Onager has a thick coat from the winter.

Persian Onager Facts

  • Binomial Name: Equus hemionus onager (Peter Simon Pallas 1775)
  • Native Land: Iran
  • Preferred Habitat: Desert, semi-desert and grassy plains
  • Height: 50 inches at the shoulder (127 cm) (Cleveland Metroparks Zoo 2018)
  • Weight: 440 to 575 pounds (200 to 260 kg) (Cleveland Metroparks Zoo 2018)
  • Diet: Herbivorous (mostly grass)
  • Gestation Period: Eleven months
  • Births: Typically, between April and September in North America (Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute 2018)
  • Lifespan: Undocumented in the wild, but could be up to 40 years (Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute 2018)
  • Running Speed: Up to 70 kilometers per hour (43 miles per hour) (Wikipedia Onager 2018)


Current Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2015), the Onager's conservation status is Endangered. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species previously categorized them as Critically Endangered (2002).

The Future of the Onager

The future of the Onager depends on protecting those that remain in the wild and the success of breeding programs at zoos and wildlife conservation centers around the world.

In the Wild

Although most of the Onagers in the wild live in two protected areas in Iran, the population continues to face numerous threats to their survival.

Some of these threats include:

  • Habitat loss due to competition for land with domestic livestock and humans
  • Poaching
  • Environmental conditions such as drought, causing limited food and water supply
  • Health issues due to inbreeding or diseases passed on from farm animals

In June 2018, the General Director for Environmental Protection of the Fars Province in Iran introduced new measures to protect this species in the Bahram-e Gur Protected Area. These measures include providing food and water to Onagers in this drought-stricken region, installing warning panels, and distributing materials to drivers in these areas (Rezaian 2018).

Protection efforts in Iran’s Touran Wildlife Refuge have already made a positive difference. In 2017, the director of the refuge in Touran announced that the Onager population has doubled in the last ten years (Financial Times 2017).

The continuation of measures to protect these horses and stopping poachers are vital to prevent them from becoming extinct in the future.

At Zoos

Breeding programs at zoos and wildlife conservation centers are also crucial to sustaining and increasing the population. Onager foals in the wild have a mortality rate of 50%, but those born in captivity have better odds of survival (Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Biology Conservation Institute 2011).

Onagers in zoos serve as an insurance policy against catastrophic loss in the wild...

— Dr. Mandi Vick, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

A mother and her newborn foal.

A mother and her newborn foal.

Interesting Things to Know

  • Onagers are sometimes referred to as "Persian Zebras."
  • They're also sometimes called "Gur," which means "swift" in the Persian language (Wikipedia Persian onager 2018).
  • The tuft at the end of their tail can be used as a flyswatter (Columbus Zoo and Aquarium 2018).
  • They can run up to 70 kilometers per hour (43 miles per hour) (Wikipedia Onager 2018). That's nearly as fast as the Guinness World Records fastest recorded speed of a racehorse, which is 70.76 kilometers per hour (Guinness World Records 2018).
  • They're sturdy animals that can handle living in temperature extremes. Built for desert conditions, they can survive in 120-degree heat (Cleveland Metroparks Zoo 2018).
  • Foals can run shortly after they're born (Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute 2018).

What Zoos Have Onagers?

If you'd like to see these beautiful horses at a zoo or wildlife park, here are a few locations where you can find them:

Note: Animal exhibits at these places change from time to time, so you might want to check to see if they currently have Onagers before visiting.


Thanks for reading this article!

I hope you enjoyed learning about this rare horse. If you're interested in helping this and other endangered animals, visit a zoo, wildlife park or conservation center that works to protect endangered species. Admission fees to these attractions help support public education and animal conservation efforts worldwide.

A newborn foal at a zoo.

A newborn foal at a zoo.


  1. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. "Onager, Persian." Accessed July 21, 2018. https://www.clevelandmetroparks.com/zoo/animals-attractions/our-animals/onager-persian.
  2. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. "Persian Onagers in Iran." Accessed July 21, 2018. https://globalimpact.columbuszoo.org/projects/project/persian-onager-reproduction-at-the-wilds.
  3. Financial Tribune. "GPS Used to Track Persian Onagers for First Time." Last modified January 8, 2017. https://financialtribune.com/articles/people-environment/57013/gps-used-to-track-persian-onagers-for-first-time.
  4. Financial Tribune. "Persian Onagers Increasing in Touran Wildlife Refuge." Last modified August 6, 2017. https://financialtribune.com/articles/people-environment/69706/persian-onagers-increasing-in-touran-wildlife-refuge.
  5. Guinness World Records. "Fastest Speed for a Race Horse." Accessed July 21, 2018. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/fastest-speed-for-a-race-horse/.
  6. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. "Equus Hemionus Ssp. Onager (Iranian Onager, Onager, Persian Onager)." Last modified 2015. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/7966/0.
  7. Rezaian, Lachin. "Iran to Take Additional Measures to Protect Endangered Persian Onager." Mehr News Agency. Last modified June 11, 2018. https://en.mehrnews.com/news/134729/Iran-to-take-additional-measures-to-protect-endangered-Persian.
  8. Righthand, Jess. "Two New Onagers Born Thanks to Artificial Insemination." Smithsonian. Last modified August 4, 2010. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/two-new-onagers-born-thanks-to-artificial-insemination-202112/.
  9. Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. "After 16-Year Breeding Hiatus, Rare Persian Onager Foal Born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute." Last modified July 29, 2016. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/news/after-16-year-breeding-hiatus-rare-persian-onager-foal-born-smithsonian-conservation-biology.
  10. Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. "Persian Onager." Last modified July 11, 2018. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/persian-onager.
  11. Wikipedia. "Onager." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed July 21, 2018. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onager.
  12. Wikipedia. "Persian Onager." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Last modified April 19, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_onager.
  13. Wikipedia. "Peter Simon Pallas." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed July 21, 2018. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Simon_Pallas.
  14. "The Wilds - Persian Onager." The Wilds - Home. Accessed July 21, 2018. https://thewilds.columbuszoo.org/home/persian-onager.

© 2018 Carrie Kelley


Carrie Kelley (author) from USA on July 10, 2019:

Hello Peggy - You're welcome! Thanks for visiting and for your comments :)

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 08, 2019:

Thanks for introducing me to this Persian Onager horse. You are correct in writing that visiting zoos help fund conservation efforts for animals in the wild and is often a way to prevent certain species from becoming extinct.

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