equus kiang

Kiang

[kee-ahng]

The Kiang (Equus kiang), also khyang and sometimes Tarpan (not to be confused with the separate extinct Tarpan) or Gorkhar, is a large mammal belonging to the horse family. They are native to the Tibetan Plateau, where they inhabit montane and alpine grasslands from 4000 to 7000 meters elevation. They are the largest of the wild asses, with an average shoulder height of 140 cm.

Relationships

The Kiang is related to the onager or Asiatic Wild Ass (E. hemionus), and it was classified by some as a subspecies of onager, E. hemionus kiang, though recent molecular studies indicate that it is a distinct species. This species is among the least studied large animal species in the world, probably because they inhabit some of the most difficult and inaccessible terrain. They are also still found in small numbers in northern Nepal along the Tibetan border.

Descriptions

The Kiang has a large head, with a blunt muzzle and a convex nose. The mane is upright and relatively short. The coat is a rich chestnut colour, darker brown in winter and a sleek reddish brown in late summer, molting its woolly fur. The summer coat is 1.5 centimeters long and the winter coat is double the length. The legs, undersides and ventral part of the nape, end of the muzzle, and the inside of the pinnae are all white. A broad, dark chocolate-coloured dorsal stripe extends from the mane to the end of the tail, which ends in a tuft of blackish brown hairs. Kiang have very slight sexual dimorphism.

The only real predator other than humans is the wolf. Kiangs defend themselves by forming a circle and, with heads down kick out violently. As a result wolves usually attack single animals who have strayed from the group.

Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese monk who travelled in Tibet from July, 1900 to June 1902, reported:

"As I have already said, khyang is the name given by the Tibetans to the wild horse of their northern steppes. More accurately it is a species of ass, quite as large in size as a large Japanese horse. In color it is reddish brown, with black hair on the ridge of the back and black mane and with the belly white. To all appearance it is an ordinary horse, except for its tufted tail. It is a powerful animal, and it is extraordinarily fleet. It is never seen singly, but always in twos or threes, if not in a herd of sixty or seventy. Its scientific name is Equus hemionis, but is for the most part called by its Tibetan name, which is usually spelled khyang in English. It has a curious habit of turning round and round, when it comes within seeing distance of a man. Even a mile and a quarter away, it will commence this turning round at every short stage of its approach, and after each turn it will stop for a while, to look at the man over its own back, like a fox. Ultimately it comes up quite close. When quite near it will look scared, and at the slightest thing will wheel round and dash away, but only to stop and look back. When one thinks it has run far away, it will be found that it has circled back quite near, to take, as it were, a silent survey of the stranger from behind. Altogether it is an animal of very queer habits.

Thubten Jigme Norbu, the elder brother of Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama, reporting on his trip from Kumbum Monastery in Amdo to Lhasa in 1950, said that:

"The kyangs or wild asses, live together in smaller groups, each headed by a stallion, lording it over anything from ten to fifty mares. I was struck by the noble appearance of these beasts; and, in particular, by the beautiful line of head and neck. Their coat is light brown on the back and whitish below the belly, and their long thin tails are almost black; the whole representing excellent camouflage against their natural background. They look wonderfully elegant and graceful when you see them darting across the steppes like arrows, heads stretched out and tails streaming away behind them in the wind. Their rutting season is in the autumn, and then the stallions are at their most aggressive as they jealously guard their harems. The fiercest and most merciless battles take place at this time of the year between the stallion installed and interlopers from other herds. When the battle is over the victor, himself bloody and bruised from savage bites and kicks, leads off the mares in a wild gallop over the steppe.
We would often see kyangs by the thousand spread over the hillsides and looking inquisitively at our caravan; sometimes they would even surround us, though keeping at some distance.

Subspecies

The four subspecies of Kiang have geographically distinct populations and their morphology is different based on such features as skull proportions, angle of incisors, shape of rump, colour pattern, coat colour, and body size. The Eastern Kiang is the largest subspecies; the Southern Kiang is the smallest. The Western Kiang are slightly smaller than the Eastern and also have a darker coat.

Footnotes

References

  • Duncan, P. (ed.). 1992. Zebras, Asses, and Horses: an Action Plan for the Conservation of Wild Equids. IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  • Sharma, Benktesh Dash, Jan Clevers, Reitze De Graaf, and Nawa Raj Chapagain, 2004. Mapping Equus kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass) Habitat in Surkhang, Upper Mustang, Nepal. Mountain Research and Development. Vol 24(2): 149–156.

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