In China all three subspecies of Kiang (Western, Southern and Eastern Kiang) occupy the Tibetan Plateau (Shah 2002). This species is found in much of Qinghai, in southern Gansu, in southern Xinjiang, in the northwestern corner of the Sichuan Province, and in most of Tibet (Xizang) covering an area of about 411,000 km2 (Schaller 1998).
In Pakistan the Western Kiang is found at the western-most edge of the species' distribution range. Kiang are largely restricted to a belt stretching along the Oprang and Muztagh Rivers, close to the Pakistan-China border (Rasool 1992, Wegge 1988, Shah 2002).
In India, two subspecies occur: Western Kiang in Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir), Uttarakhand, and Southern Kiang in northern Sikkim (Shah 1994,1996), together covering an area of 15,000 km2 (Chundawat and Qureshi 1999,Shah and Qureshi 2002, Shah and Qureshi 2007a), with some emerging reports of their occurrence from the Tsarap Chu and Sarchu areas of Himachal Pradesh (Y.V. Bhatnagar pers. comm).
In Nepal, Western Kiang occupy the upper Mustang valley and are restricted to a 340 km2 area (Sharma et al. 2004) along the border with China.
There have been no reports of Kiang from Bhutan, but their presence is possible in the extreme north and northwest of the country (Jackson 1981, IUCN 1993, Shah 2002).
Equus kiang are wildly distributed in Tibet, Tsinghai and Szechwan regions of China, Nepal, and India. Three subspecies have been assigned to populations in different ranges, but this is still controversial.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native )
Equus kiang is the largest wild ass species in the world. Kiang lengths are about 210 cm, shoulder heights are about 140 cm, tail lengths are 50 cm, and body weights are 250 to 440 kg. Their pelage changes with season. They are usually reddish in summer and dark brown in winter. In summer the coat is shorter and thinner, while the winter coat is long and thick. Equus kiang look more like horses than asses because of their short ears and large tail tufts. They are very similar to Equus hemionus genetically and physically. The mitochondrial DNA divergence between the 2 species is only 1%, and the divergence probably arose less than 500,000 years ago. Their running speed is slightly slower than E. hemionus.
Range mass: 250 to 440 kg.
Average length: 210 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Habitat and Ecology
The Kiang relies on coarse but abundant forage to meet its nutrient requirements (Duncan 1992, Schaller 1998). Stipa spp., a common grass on the Tibetan Plateau, constitutes most of the diet of Kiang, and sedges are eaten occasionally (Shah 1994, Harris and Miller 1995,Shah1997,Schaller 1998, St-Louis and Ct 2014). There are direct observations of Kiang feeding on Carex spp., Kobresia spp. and Stipa spp. in Sikkim (Shah 1994, 1997). Forbs and shrubs are generally eaten in lower proportion (Harris and Miller 1995, Schaller 1998), but may be more frequently consumed at certain times of the year (e.g. during the fall; St-Louis and Ct, 2014). In Chang Tang, the summer diet of the Kiang was approximately 65% Stipa spp., followed by Kobresia spp., Carex spp., Poa spp. and Elymus spp. (Schaller 1998), with Tanecetum, Saussurea spp., Salsola sp.,Polygonum spp. and Sedum sp. also consumed. In winter, the proportion of Stipa in Kiang diet may increase up to > 90% (Schaller 1998) in Tibet. In the same season, Kiang mostly feed on the Stipa-Tanecetum community (56%), followed by Allysum-Stipa (26%), Artemesia, Carex and Potentilla at Hanley Basin in India (as reported by both Shah and Qureshi 2007a, Hussain 2009).
No regular migration pattern has been observed in Kiang (Schaller 1998). They do, however, make seasonal movements between different habitat types, often dispersing in small groups into hilly terrain in summer, and concentrating in basins and flat terrains during winter (Schaller 1998). It has been suggested that these movements are linked to the availability of relatively high-quality forage (Schaller 1998, St-Louis and Ct 2014). Daily movements between flat plains and meadows and higher elevation terrain have been observed, suggesting a daily pattern of altitudinal movements (A. St-Louis, pers. obs.). In Ladakh and Sikkim Indo-China trans-boundary movements by Kiang have been reported by the pastoralists and the defence forces and was observed by the authors (Shah and Qureshi 2002). In Xinjiang Province, major activity occurs along the Stipa meadows; in winter mixed herds spent 50% of their time feeding (Shah and Huibin 2000), while in summer they spent less time (26%), spending most time feeding in spring (67%; Xia et al. 2013). Kiang have two peaks in time feeding during the day (Shah and Huibin 2000): during the summer it is in morning and evening (Xu et al. 2013), the morning peak shifts to afternoon during winter (Xia et al. 2013).
Limited observations indicate that the social organisation of the Kiang is similar to that of other wild equids living in arid conditions, such as Grvys zebra (E. grevyii), African Wild Ass (E. africanus) and Asiatic Wild Ass (E. hemionus; Schaller 1998, Shah and Qureshi 2007b, St-Louis and Ct 2009). In this type of social organization, there are no permanent groups, and the most stable social unit is mother-foal. Males do not permanently tend groups of mares and young but are territorial, and young males often form bachelor groups (Klingel 1977,Schaller 1998,Shah and Qureshi 2007b, St-Louis and Ct 2009). Male territorial behavior consists of chasing intruders as they come by and occupying the same area for several months (Shah 1993, Denzau and Denzau 1999). Males recognizable by natural marks have been observed occupying the same territory over a period of three years in eastern Ladakh (A. St-Louis pers. obs.). Kiang mares have a gestation period of 355 days (Shah 2002, St-Louis and Ct 2009) and normally foal in July and August (some in June and September; Shah and Qureshi 2002), which is also the period of time in which females appear to come into estrus (Shah 1993, Schaller 1998, St-Louis and Ct 2009) and males become solitary and spaced in such a fashion as to appear to be territorial. Females of the same reproductive stage are often associated together. Group sizes tend to be smaller during the breeding season, but large aggregations may form on good pasture during the fall and winter (Schaller 1998, Shah and Huibin 2000,Shah and Qureshi 2002). Herds congregate on good pastures in autumn and winter, at times in herds of 300 to 400 (Schfer 1937, Schaller 1998, Shah and Huibin 2000, Bhatnagar and Wangchuk 2001). More than 500 Kiang were seen in one group in December 1999 (Shah and Huibin 2000).
E. kiang live in alpine grass lands of elevation range from 4000 m to 7000 m. They prefer dry open areas including desert, semidesert, or steppe. Annual precipitation is from 60 mm to 70 mm.
Range elevation: 4000 to 7000 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate
Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; desert or dune ; mountains
E. kiang feed mainly on grasses and short plants. They especially feed on forbs (Stipa spp.), which are widely distributed and plentiful. Their feeding areas sometimes overlap with those of domestic sheep during summer, but they do not complete for food significantly.
Plant Foods: leaves
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
Only wolves prey on wild asses in nature. However, going back to the early 1900s, they have been hunted for meat and skins. Since the hunting started, the geographic distribution of E. kiang has been reduced.
- gray wolves (Canis lupus)
- humans (Homo sapiens)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
About 20 years.
Status: captivity: 30.1 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Male E. kiang mob females and guard them from rival males. Single males follow the female herds and fight for breeding rights.
Mating System: polygynous
The breeding season is from August to September. Gestation takes almost a year, and thus young are usually born in late July to August when food is plentiful. One young is born at each birth. The baby can walk a few hours after birth. Weaing takes place after about a year, and it takes another year to reach sexual maturity.
Breeding season: August-September
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average gestation period: 12 months.
Average weaning age: 12 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 years.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Average gestation period: 299 days.
Parental Investment: precocial ; female parental care
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- Least Concern (LC)
- 1996Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
Undetermined (IUCN, 1996).
Lower risk (IUCN, 2000).
However, habitat loss and competition for food sources with livestocks could put them at risk. In some areas, poaching pressure still exists.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
The current global population estimate of Kiang is 60,000-70,000 individuals (with the Western Kiang subspecies being more abundant than the Eastern Kiang, which is more abundant than the Southern Kiang), 90% of which are in China (Shah 2002). The Chinese population is approximately 56,500-68,500 animals, of which 15,000 are in Qinghai and Gansu (Schaller 1998), 4,500-5,500 in Xinjiang (Schaller 1998, Shah and Huibin 2000), and 37,000-48,000 in Tibet (Schaller 1998, Shah 2002). Outside China, the population is estimated at 1,600-2,200 (Shah 2002) most of which are in India, less than 25 in Pakistan (Wang et al. 2012) and less than 100 in Nepal (Jnawali et al. 2011, Sharma et al. 2004). It must be stressed that these figures come from surveys conducted using different methods, and over a period of >20 years. Also, the propensity of Kiang to move over extended ranges makes any attempt to quantify their numbers in any given area difficult (Shah 1996). Most Kiang surveys did not give population estimates, but illustrated local trends. For example, Schaller et al. (2005) documented a population increase in Tibet since surveys in the early 1990s. Surveys conducted in India indicate that populations seem largely stable (Bhatnagar et al. 2006,Shah and Qureshi 2007a,Ahmad and Nigam 2015). Kiang are reported along the borders between China-Pakistan (Wegge 1988, Rasool 1992, Shah 2002) and China-Nepal (Gurung 1999, Shah 2002). Surveys are urgently required throughout the distribution range of the species.
Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan
It is estimated that 15,000 Kiang reside in Qinghai (Schaller 1998). The Kiang population in Qinghai appears to be fragmented, and there are large areas of the province where the species is rare, particularly where pastoralists live in greater numbers. Kiang have been almost exterminated in the eastern third of Qinghai Province and are uncommon in and around the periphery of Qaidam Basin. The southwestern part of Qinghai comprises some 75,000 km2, where densities up to 0.8 individualskm2may occur locally (Schaller 1998). Kiang are mostly found in remote areas with low human population densities or, in some cases, in valleys seasonally unoccupied by pastoralists, such as the plains north of Qinghai Hu (also known as Koko Nur Lake; Foggin 2000). Kiang also extend east to Ngoring Hu and in the north across the Qaidam Basin to the Qilian Shan, but only at low densities. This is a vast tract for which no real population estimates have been made. Areas between Kunlun Pass around Wudaoliang and Tuotuohe have been surveyed for wild ungulates and had about 1,5002,000 Kiang: a density of about 0.1 animal/km2(Schaller et al. 1991). In the Yeniugou valley in the southwest of the province, Harris et al. (1999) estimated a population of 843 individuals across 1,051km2in 1991, counted less than 100 in 1992, and 418 Kiang in 1997. In 2002, Harris and Loggers (2004) counted 506 Kiangs in the same area, and suggested that varying numbers over the years are likely to reflect local movements rather than true population changes. In Wudaoliang, 213 kiang were seen in 2,100km2and 1,500-2,000 were estimated in 20,000km2(Schaller et al. 1991). On the Qinghai-Tibet border, 510 Kiang were counted in 2,736km2(Feng 1991) and 1,000-1,500 kiang were estimated in a 75,000km2area. Three hundread and twenty Kiang were counted between March and July 1997 north of Qinghai Hu, Huashixia (Maduo county) and Tuotuoheyan (Foggin 2000). In 2003, Xiao et al. (2006) surveyed 20,000km2for ungulates and Kiang in Qumalai county in Qinghai Province and estimated 3,000-4,000 Kiang.
In Gansu, Kiang were the second most commonly observed ungulate in winter when 0.255 Kiang/km were encountered in a 679 km vehicle survey (Bleisch 1996). In Yanchiwan Reserve, 58 Kiang were sighted in 1985 (Schaller 1998). Kiang also occur in the Aksai area adjacent to the Qinghai Boundary (Harris 1999).
In the northwestern corner of Sichuan Province, there are a few Kiang in the Changshagongma National Nature Reserve. No survey data are available, but forestry staff of Shiqu County reported 100 to 200 seen in spring 2014 (Liu Yanlin pers. comm. 2015). There are large tracks of grassland without herders and livestock in this area.
In Xinjiang, the best known Kiang population is in the Arjin Shan Nature Reserve (Altun Mountain Nature Reserve (AMNR); Achuff and Petocz 1988, Turgan et al. 2013). Kiang have replaced Chiru (Tibetan Antelope, Pantholops hodgsonii) as the most numerous large mammal in the reserve (J. Gaw pers. comm.). In AMNR the Kiang population estimated 2,000-3,500 in December 1999 (Shah and Huibin 2000). Zheng-chao et al. (2006) estimated the Kiang population to be 8,300 in December 2003. Recent surveys in spring and autumn of 2011-12 estimated 8,500-9,500 Kiang in 45,000km2of AMNR (Turghan et al. 2013). Along the southern margin of Arjin Shan (Tula Valley), 56 Kiang were sighted in a 300 km drive. Numbers fluctuate with season in the Tula Valley as they travel to and from the adjoining Arjin Shan Reserve (Schaller et al. 1991). West of Arjin Shan Reserve, 108 Kiang were sighted in a 4,000km2area (Schaller 1998). A survey of 23,000km2in the western half of the reserve showed that most Kiang were concentrated in about 5,795 km2(Achuff and Petocz 1988). Kiang were more abundant in the eastern half of the reserve, where over 1,000 Kiang were sighted by Butler et al. (1986), whilst Feng (1991) had recorded 770 Kiang in 1,030km2.These numbers were extrapolated to an estimate of 41,262 Kiang for the whole reserve (Gao and Gu 1989), which was considered much too high by Schaller (1998) and Shah and Huibin (2000). The eastern Arjin Shan Nature Reserve survey in the winter of 1998 had an encounter rate of 2.56 Kiang/km (333.5 km of vehicle survey; Bleisch 1999). The 1999-2000 survey had an encounter rate of 2.34 kiang/km (1,854 kiang in 792 km of travel; Shah and Huibin 2000). The western Arjin Shan Nature Reserve had a very low kiang density of 0.137/km2, especially in the vicinity of gold-mining camps. Kiang numbers were estimated at 1,500 in this area of the reserve (Bleisch 1999). Taking all the above surveys and estimates into account, Shah and Huibin (2000) derived a total Kiang population of the area as 2,000-3,500 animals; some earlier population estimates for the reserve were clearly much too high (e.g., 30,000; Butler et al. 1986).
Elsewhere in Xinjiang, this species was last seen in the Taxkorgan Nature Reserve during the 1950s (Schaller et al. 1987, Shah 2002, Shah et al. 2008). Kiang still occur in the Aksai Chin region of Xinjiang, but there have been no surveys (Schaller 1998). Surveys in autumn and spring of 2011/2012 estimated a total population of 8,500-9,500 Kiang in 45,000km2of Arjin Shan, with the highest population in Ayak Kum (34.9%), followed by Ixak Patti (22.06%), Aqqik Kul (21.01%), Whale Lake (12.98%), Kara Qokka (5.18%), Kara Dong (3.53%) and At Atkan (0.30%; Turghan et al. 2013). Kiang density in these areas was 0.630.23 animals/km2on average; the highest density of 1.47/km2was recorded in Ayak Kum, while the lowest observed density of 0.01/km2was recorded in At Atkhan (Turghan et al. 2013). Turghan et al. (2013) had sighted an average of 3,972 (SE 122) Kiang in their three surveys and cautioned about their estimate for the entire reserve (45,000km2), but their mean raw count is similar to numbers reported earlier (Shah and Huibin 2000), indicating that the population is not declining.
The largest populations of Kiang in the world are in Tibet, mostly located in the northwest region of Chang Tang. Kiang occur in southern Tibet, but they are separated from the northern populations probably as a result of intensive agricultural practices and human settlements along the Tsangpo River valley (Schaller 1998). Local people reported that Kiang were exterminated in most of this region between the 1960s and 1980s (Schaller 1998). Scattered populations survive along the trans- Himalaya west of Bhutan (Schaller 1998). Kiang were sighted north of the Indo-Tibet border in north Sikkim (Shah 1994). Two- to three-hundred Kiang occur in the Qomolangma Reserve, but estimates are not clear. Surveys conducted between 1999 and 2002 across the Chang Tang Nature Reserve revealed that Kiang are well distributed across the reserve, but tend to be concentrated in areas with low human presence (Fox and Brdsen 2005). Kiang densities in areas with low human presence ranged from 1.06 to 1.53 individuals/km2(encounter rate = 0.13-0.23 Kiang/km), whereas densities in areas with moderate human presence were estimated at 0.88 individuals/km2(encounter rate = 0.06-0.16 Kiang/km; Fox and Brdsen 2005). In a winter survey (March and April) of the Chang Tang reserve in 2003 the density of Kiang was more than twice that observed in 1991, with 2,266 Kiang counted in an area of 11,870km2, compared to 1,224 Kiang seen in 1991 over an area of 17,500km2(Schaller et al. 2005). A winter survey crossed the northern region of the Chang Tang Nature Reserve and continued across the Kekexili Nature reserve in Qinghai to the Golmud-Lhasa highway (Schaller et al. 2007). Few Kiangs were observed along the entire route, with densities less than 0.1 individuals/km2. The majority of the Kiang counted (48%) were seen near the end of the transect line near the Golmud-Lhasa (Schaller et al. 2007). A wide ungulate survey conducted in 2008 and 2009 over the whole Chang Tang area led to a total count of 14,446 Kiang, including 10,000 Kiang in the Chang Tang reserve with an average density of 0.130.18/km2(WCS 2009). Whether this trend can be generalized to other parts of the Kiang distribution range remains unclear, but these observations suggest that there is an increase in Kiang numbers within the Chang Tang Nature Reserve (Schaller et al. 2005). In a survey conducted by Shah and Gruisen (2000), a total of 421 kiang were sighted in 2,660 km of travel along southwest and central Tibet. Most of the Kiang (45%) were sighted between the Mayum La and the pass beyond Moincer in the Mansarovar, and Kailash. Group size varied from one to 69. The highest count was between Mayum La and Lake Manasarovar, with an encounter rate of 1.4 Kiang/km (Shah and Van Gruisen 2000, 2001).
Outside China, Kiang numbers are small. In India the largest populations are located in Eastern Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir state). Historically and currently, their range encompasses the area between Rupshu and Changchenmo (Stockley 1936, Fox et al. 1991). Although their range covers c. 8,000km2in Ladakh, Kiang numbers have been greatly reduced in many areas (Shah and Qureshi 2007a, Chundawat and Qureshi 1999). Approximately 1,500 to 1,600 Kiang are distributed over an estimated range of 15,000km2in the Trans-Himalayan region (Chundawat and Rawat 1994). The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Department, Leh, conducted a census in 1988 and estimated a total of c. 1,500 Kiang, and in 1994 counted 1,518 Kiang in East Ladakh (Ladakh Wildlife Department, Jammu and Kashmir State Forest Department). Estimates later by Shah (2002) and Bhatnagar and Wangchuk (2001) remained similar. An encounter rate of 1.17 Kiang/km was obtained (497 Kiang in 426 km) during the June 1995 survey covering areas around Pangong Tso, Chushul, Hanley, Tso Moriri, Tso Kar and Demchok (Shah 1996). A high encounter rate of 12.64 Kiang/km was obtained along the Indus (278 Kiang counted; Shah 1996), whilst 249 Kiang were counted in the same region (c. 114 km) in July 2000, at an encounter rate of 2.18 Kiang/km (Bhatnagar and Wangchuk 2001). Bhatnagar et al. (2006) estimated a mean density of 0.24 individuals/km2in a wide survey of Ladakh, and concentrations of up to 0.86 individuals/km2in the Loma-Demchok section of the upper Indus valley. The general figure for Ladakh is thus comparable with the densities estimated in the 1980s (0.25 individuals/km2Fox et al. 1991). In the Changchenmo valley of the Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary, a very low encounter of 0.27 Kiang/km was obtained in 2002 (Shah and Qureshi 2002), and a maximum of 395 Kiang were sighted in 2014 with an encounter rate of 4.12 Kiang/km (Ahmad and Nigam 2015). Other Kiang habitats in Ladakh include the More Plains located south of the Taglang la along the Leh-Manali road (Q. Qureshi pers. comm., 1996), and Norbu Sumdo and Korzok, southeast of Ladakh (Charudutt Mishra pers. comm., 1998). Kiang have been reported by locals from Kharnak (upper Zanskar) in Ladakh (Y.V. Bhatnagar pers. comm., 1999). According to local inhabitants of Lahul and Spiti (Himachal Pradesh), Kiang have been sighted north of Kibber, along the Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh state boundary. Recent surveys point to occurrence of Kiang in the Tsarap Chu and Sarchu areas (upper Zanskar Catchment) of Himachal Pradesh (Y.V. Bhatnagar and C. Mishra pers. comm.).
Elsewhere in India, the Kiang population of north Sikkim was thought to be extinct (Duncan 1992). However, two surveys conducted in 1994 and 1995 in north Sikkim confirmed their continued existence in a 200km2area close to the Indo-Tibetan border, at an altitude between 5,100-5,400 m asl (Shah 1994, 1997). An encounter rate of 0.54 Kiang/km was obtained in a 138 km vehicle survey in this area in November 1994 (Shah 1994). A vehicle survey between May and June 1995 recorded an encounter rate of 0.092 Kiang/km (26 Kiang counted in 283 km; Shah 1997). The largest herd of Kiang (n=48; foals were seen, but not counted) was observed across the border, west of Bamchola (Shah 1994). In 1994, the Kiang population was estimated at 74120 individuals (Shah 1994). This area has no official protected status, but comes under army jurisdiction (Shah 1994, 1997). A more recent intensive seven month study in north Sikkim estimated just c. 18 Kiangs at an encounter rate of 0.1/km (Chanchani et al. 2010), which is similar to what Shah in 1995 study had reported.
The continued presence of the species in extreme northeastern Pakistan was confirmed in the 1980s (Wegge 1988). An isolated population of 20 to 25 Kiang was sporadically distributed towards the eastern most boundary of the Khunjerab National Park beyond Shamshal, adjoining the area between the Aghil range and the Kunlun Mountains of Chinese Turkistan (Rasool 1992). This represents the westernmost limit of the Kiang range. Kiang are restricted to a belt stretching along the Oprang and Muztagh Rivers, which form the Pakistan-China border. High altitude porters in June 1985 reported Kiang sightings in Chikar, Furzin and Muztagh Kayul Ridge (Rasool 1992). Few censuses have been conducted due to the isolation of the area and the current population status is unknown (Rasool 1992). Kiang were most recently reported in Khunjerab National Park (Shafiq and Ali 1998) along the Karakorum highway during a 2009-2011 survey (Wang et al. 2012).
There are under 100 Kiang in Mustang (Jnawali et al. 2011), and there are reports of their occurrence from Chhujung in the Mustang district, Kiangchummi, Lapchagawa, and in the watershed areas of Salekhola, Yarchakhola and Itikhola (Gurung 1999). Other potential sites for Kiang in Nepal include the Makalu-Barun National Park and Conservation Area, the Annapurna Conservation area and the Shey-Phoksundo National Park (Shah 2002). Sharma et al. (2004) reports 37 Kiang in Chuksung, Upper Mustang. It is not clear whether these data refer to animals that wandered across the border with China or to animals permanently living in Nepal.
The real conservation issue for Kiangs is related to conflicts with livestock herding practices. Changes in rangeland use policy are increasing the human presence and movements in key wildlife areas, along with increasing livestock numbers (Shah and Qureshi 2002,Fox and Tsering 2005,Schalleret al.2005,Shah and Qureshi2007a,Bhatnagar and Singh 2011,Namgail et al. 2011). Rangelands in some localities have been turned into private ranches owned by several families (G.B. Schaller pers. comm), likely causing an intensification of pasture use. Various socioeconomic transformations are also leading to smaller annual ranges of herders, which are grazed more intensively at present (Shah and Qureshi 2002,Shah and Qureshi2007a, Bhatnagar and Singh 2011). Rangelands are also often fenced from wildlife (Badunah and Harris 2002), which not only prevent Kiang from gaining access to key resources, but may also cause injuries and deaths (Schaller et al. 2005, Bhatnagar et al. 2006, Shah and Qureshi 2007a). It also appears that, while there may be a general perception by local communities that Kiang overuse pastures on a wide scale, the real conflicts occur at a local scale. For example, Bhatnagar et al. (2006) pointed out that in Ladakh Kiang only use 10-11% of the total forage consumed, while the other 89-90% is used by livestock. Still, large concentrations of Kiang may have an important impact on grasslands at a local scale, especially in the moist meadows along river and lake basins, which are preserved by the herders as winter reserve pasture. It should be stressed that in order to address this conflict, solutions must be implemented at local scale i.e. at the scale of these clearly identified moist meadows.
More specific threats in particular parts of its range are listed below:
Qinghai (China): The Yeniugou valley is one of the finest and most accessible wildlife areas in Qinghai. This area has a continuing influx of Tibetan and Mongolian nomads who, unlike the nomads in Tibet, lack allocated rangelands (Harris 1993). Gold miners from eastern Qinghai Province first began entering the Yeniugou Valley in the late 1980s and were still using it as a transportation corridor to mining sites in 1997 (Harris et al. 1999). Poaching continues in some places (e.g. near Golmud), sometimes with the acceptance of nomads who perceive the Kiang as a nuisance to their livestock (G.B. Schaller pers. comm.). The Qinghai-Tibetan highway is a major source of disturbance impact animal behaviour (Bao-fa et al. 2007), and has opened the area for exploitation of wildlife.
Xinjiang (China): In the Arjin Shan Nature Reserve (AMNR), densities of wildlife in the north and west of Aqik Lake are very low as the area is used extensively by tractors and supply trucks travelling to and from two large gold mines within the nature reserve (Bleisch 1999, Shah and Huibin 2000, Turghan 2013). Pastoralists have settled in the eastern part of the reserve and their domestic horses have been observed feeding with Kiang in its winter range. Such use of the area needs to be analysed and monitored, with special attention to the possibility of disease transmission. Fencing of pastures, hunting and mining are causing a decline in the Kiang population (Shah and Huibin 2000, Turghan 2013).
Tibet (Xizang) (China): In the Chang Tang Nature Reserve, most of the area inhabited by pastoralists is located in the southern and western part of the reserve, although human presence is increasing even in the most remote areas (Fox et al. 2004). Today there are between 20,000 to 30,000 people and > 1.5 million head of livestock dependent on the rangelands of the reserve (Miller and Schaller 1997, Fox et al. 2004, Fox and Tsering 2005). Changes in traditional pastoral production systems pose a danger in the Chang Tang Reserve. Remote pastoral areas that used to take months to reach on horseback and by caravan are now accessible in a few days by vehicle from Lhasa (Miller and Schaller 1997, Goldstein and Beall 2002). The complex system of rotational grazing, which has succeeded in maintaining the rangelands, had to be modified due to increasing human population. Nomad groups now use fence to protect their winter pastures and some have built long fences across valleys and hills to keep away wildlife which is affecting Kiang and Chiru (Pantholops hodgsonii) populations, their local movements and migrations (Miller and Schaller 1997, Shah and Huibin 2000, Shah and van Gruisen 2000,Shah and van Gruisen2001, Schaller et al. 2005). This trend will also intensify land use and problems of overgrazing, and will increase competition for forage. Consequently, there are demands from herders to control Kiang populations (Miller and Schaller 1997, Foggin 2000, Harris 2007). In southern Tibet, there may be less than 2,500 Kiang that could also belong to either E. k.kiang orE. k. polyodon. If this is indeed the case, it will be important to carefully monitor their status and population trends (Neumann-Denzau and Denzau 2003).
Ladakh (India): Approximately 215,000 domestic livestock (90% sheep and goats, 10% yaks and horses) compete with an estimated 5,000 wild ungulates in the Changthang region (Shah and Qureshi 2002, Bhatnagar et al. 2006, Shah and Qureshi 2007a). Hence there is an increased pressure on the pastureland. The Jammu and Kashmir Government has encouraged nomads to keep pashmina goats for production of wool by giving incentives that will sustain their living standards. In this context, Kiang are increasingly perceived as serious competitors by some pastoralists and the local administration (Shah and Qureshi 2002, Anonymous 2003). The traditional practices of grazing circuits and resting pastures is getting lost over time, as the system is used for maximizing gains; this is detrimental to the pastures (Shah and Qureshi 2002, Shah and Qureshi 2007a, Bhatnagar and Singh 2011,Namgailet al.2011). A decreasing tolerance for Kiang may thus lead to a worsening willingness to preserve it by local authorities (Shah and Qureshi 2002,Bhatnagar et al. 2006,Shah and Qureshi2007a).
Sikkim (India): The habitat on the Indian side of the Sikkim plateau is the only area that has water when compared to the adjacent Tibetan plateau. The Tibetan pastoralists and livestock inevitably visit the Indian side for watering during the dry season, effectively preventing the Kiang from accessing water sources. The livestock could also potentially transmit diseases. Seventeen Dokpa families (nomads) have Nangs (temporary settlements) on the Sikkim plateau (200 km2). Approximately 1,000 yaks and 1,500 sheep are dependent for grazing on the plateau areas from October to April each year, which may cause interspecific competition with Kiang (Shah 1994, 1997, 2002).
The Kiang is legally protected in most of its range. In China it receives first class protection; in India it is on Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife, Protection Act of 1972, in Nepal is protected under the National Parks & Wildlife Conservation Act 2029 (1973) and in Pakistan it is conserved under the Northern Areas Wildlife Preservation Act 1975. It is on Appendix II of CITES.
Although widespread and relatively common, the Kiang has received little scientific study. This means that much information that would aid conservation actions are lacking.
Conservation and research recommendations include:
- Research in to the effects of climate change on this species.
- Use of molecular genetics to understand the taxonomic status of the three subspecies of Kiang and their distribution in the range countries, with urgent emphasis on the status of E. k. polyodon.
- Coordinated surveys on the present distribution, population numbers and trends, using comparative methodologies.A province-wide status survey ofthe Eastern, Western and Southern Kiang needs to be determined. It is imperative to identify areas of overlap between theEastern, Western and Southern Kiangin south-central Tibet.
- Comparative ecosystem analysis of habitat and forage requirements of domestic livestock and Kiang. Initial efforts should concentrate on known areas of seasonal overlap between Kiang, pastoralists and their livestock.
- Studies on population dynamics with emphasis on recruitment and mortality rates.
- Long-term studies should be implemented, in order to understand life-history strategies, movement patterns, resource selection patterns and competition with livestock. These data are necessary to develop sound management plans.
- Develop and implement mitigation management plans to reduce conflict between Kiangs and domestic livestock.
- Develop a protocol for disease monitoring. Vaccination program for domestic equids ranging and foraging in the Kiang habitats.
- Implement conservation education and awareness programs. These should be promoted amongst the army in areas where the Kiang habitat comes under military jurisdiction, in order to help conserve the Kiang and other wildlife. Awareness programs are also essential for local herders and animal husbandry officials for a more nuanced understanding of competition, or lack of it in their pastures.
- The trans-boundary aspects of management of Kiang need to be considered. Where possible, data sharing and management collaboration should be fostered between the park rangers and wardens who manage the same animals on either side of a border. In addition, a Kiang population and habitat viability analysis would bring all the scientists and managers associated with the species on one platform to develop a conservation action plan.
- A review of the management actions every 10 years would help to review conservation status of the species as it exists in the field, and the effectiveness of the conservation measures that have been taken at least in protected areas.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The wild asses are hunted for meat and for their skins, which are used for making leather.
Positive Impacts: food
The kiang (Equus kiang) is the largest of the wild asses. It is native to the Tibetan Plateau, where it inhabits montane and alpine grasslands. Its current range is restricted to Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, plains of the Tibetan plateau and northern Nepal along the Tibetan border. Other common names for this species include Tibetan wild ass, khyang, and gorkhar.
The kiang is closely related to the onager (Equus hemionus), and in some classifications it is considered a subspecies, E. hemionus kiang. Molecular studies, however, indicate that it is a distinct species. An even closer relative, however, may be the extinct Equus conversidens of Pleistocene America, to which it bears a number of striking similarities; however, such a relationship would require kiangs to have crossed Beringia during the Ice Age, for which there is little evidence. Kiang can crossbreed with onagers, horses, donkeys, and Burchell's zebras in captivity, although, like mules, the resulting offspring are sterile. Kiangs have never been domesticated.
The kiang is the largest of the wild asses, with an average shoulder height of 13.3 hands (55 inches, 140 cm). They range from 132 to 142 centimetres (52 to 56 in) high at the shoulder, with a body 182 to 214 centimetres (72 to 84 in) long, and a 32 to 45 centimetres (13 to 18 in) tail. Kiangs have only slight sexual dimorphism, with the males weighing from 350 to 400 kilograms (770 to 880 lb), while females weigh 250 to 300 kilograms (550 to 660 lb). They have 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, when the animal moults its woolly fur. The summer coat is 1.5 centimeters long and the winter coat is double that length. The legs, underparts, end of the muzzle, and the inside of the ears 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.
Distribution and habitat
Kiangs are found on the Tibetan plateau, between the Himalayas in the south and the Kunlun Mountains in the north. This restricts them almost entirely to China, but small numbers are found across the borders in the Ladakh and Sikkim regions of India, and along the northern frontier of Nepal.
- Equus kiang kiang — Western Kiang (Tibet, Ladakh, southwestern Xinjiang)
- Equus kiang holdereri — Eastern Kiang (Qinghai, southeastern Xinjiang)
- Equus kiang polyodon — Southern Kiang (southern Tibet, Nepalese border)
The eastern kiang is the largest subspecies; the southern kiang is the smallest. The western kiang is slightly smaller than the eastern and also has a darker coat. However, there is no genetic information confirming the validity of the three subspecies, which may simply represent a cline, with gradual variation between the three forms.
Kiangs inhabit alpine meadows and steppe country between 2,700 and 5,300 metres (8,900 and 17,400 ft) elevation. They prefer relatively flat plateaus, wide valleys, and low hills, dominated by grasses, sedges, and smaller amounts of other low-lying vegetation. This open terrain, in addition to supplying them with suitable forage absent in the more arid regions of central Asia, may make it easier for them to detect, and flee from, predators.
Like all equids, kiangs are herbivores, feeding on grasses and sedges, especially Stipa, but also including other local plants such as bog sedges, Carex, and meadow grass. When there is little grass available, such as during winter or in the more arid margins of their native habitat, they have been observed eating shrubs, herbs, and even Oxytropis roots, dug from the ground. Although they do sometimes drink from waterholes, such sources of water are rare on the Tibetan plateau, and it is likely they obtain most of their water from the plants they eat, or possibly from snow in winter.
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.
Kiangs sometimes gather together in large herds, which may number several hundred individuals. However, these herds are not permanent groupings, but temporary aggregations, consisting either of young males only, or of mothers and their foals. Older males are typically solitary, defending a territory of about 0.5 to 5 square kilometres (0.19 to 1.93 sq mi) from rivals, and dominating any local groups of females. Territorial males sometimes become aggressive towards intruders, kicking and biting at them, but more commonly chase them away after a threat display that involves flattening the ears and braying.
Kiangs mate between late July and late August, when older males tend reproductive females by trotting around them, and then chasing them prior to mating. The length of gestation has been variously reported as anything from seven to twelve months, and results in the birth of a single foal. Females are able to breed again almost immediately after birth, although births every other year are more common. Foals weigh up to 35 kilograms (77 lb) at birth, and are able to walk within a few hours. The age of sexual maturity is unknown, although probably around three or four years, as it is in the closely related onager. Kiang live for up to twenty years in the wild.
Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese monk who traveled 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."
- "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."
- Grubb, P. (2005). "Order Perissodactyla". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 632. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Shah, N., St. Louis, A., Huibin, Z., Bleisch, W., van Gruissen, J. & Qureshi, Q. (2008). Equus kiang. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 10 April 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.
- In weasel land; Text and pictures by Sujatha Padmanabhan; Jan 10, 2004; The Hindu, India's National Newspaper
- Wild Ass sighted in Rajasthan villages along Gujarat; by Sunny Sebastian; Sep 13, 2009; The Hindu, India's National Newspaper
- Sharma, et al., 2004. Mapping Equus kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass) Habitat in Surkhang, Upper Mustang, Nepal. Mountain Research and Development. Vol 24(2): 149–156.
- Ladakh Physical, Statistical, and Historical Ladakh Physical, Statistical, and Historical by Alexander Cunningham
- Kiang: The Animal Facts Kiang: The Animal Facts
- Ryder, O.A. & Chemnick, L.G. (1990). "Chromosomal and molecular evolution in Asiatic wild asses". Genetica 83 (1): 67–72.
- Bennett, D.K. (1980). "Stripes do not a zebra make, part I: a cladistic analysis of Equus". Systematic Zoology 29 (3): 272–287. doi:10.2307/2412662.
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- Shah, N. (2002). Moehlman, P.D., ed. Equids: zebras, asses and horses. Status survey and conservation action plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. pp. 72–81.
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- Tibet is My Country: Autobiography of Thubten Jigme Norbu, Brother of the Dalai Lama as told to Heinrich Harrer, pp. 151–152. First published in German in 1960. English translation by Edward Fitzgerald, published 1960. Reprint, with updated new chapter, (1986): Wisdom Publications, London. ISBN 0-86171-045-2.
- Kawaguchi, Ekai (1909): Three Years in Tibet, pp. 131, 133. Reprint: Book Faith India (1995), Delhi. ISBN 81-7303-036-7
- Kiang - Equus kiang; IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group; Species Survival Groups ()
- 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.