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 )
In China the species is found in much of Qinghai, in southern Gansu, in southern Xinjiang, and in most of Tibet (Xizang). In Pakistan, at the westernmost edge of the species' distribution, kiang are largely restricted to a belt stretching along the Oprang and Muztagh Rivers, close to the Pakistan-China border. In India kiang occur in Ladakh area of Kashmir, and in northern Sikkim. In Nepal kiang are restricted to a few areas along the border with China. There have been no reports from Bhutan, but their presence is possible in the extreme north and northwest of the country.
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
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
Habitat and Ecology
As a wild equid, 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 kiangs, whereas sedges are eaten occasionnaly (Shah 1994, 1997, Harris and Miller 1995; Schaller 1998). Forbs and shrubs are rarely eaten (Harris and Miller 1995, Schaller 1998). There are direct observations of kiang feeding on Carex spp., Kobresia spp., and Stipa spp. in Sikkim (Shah 1994, 1997). 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., and small amounts of a few forbs and shrubs (Schaller 1998). In the same area, the proportion of Stipa in winter diets increased to > 90% (Schaller 1998).
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). 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 Xinjiang Province, major activity occurs along the Stipa meadows and in winter, mixed herds spent 50% of their time feeding with two feeding peaks per day (Shah and Huibin 2000).
Limited observations indicate that the social organisation of the kiang is similar to that of other wild equids living in arid conditions, such as Grévy’s zebra (E. grevyii), African wild ass (E. africanus), and Asiatic wild ass (E. hemionus). 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). Male kiangs often show territorial behaviour, chasing intruders as they come by and occupying the same area for several months (Denzau and Denzau 1999). Males recognizable by natural marks have been observed occupying the same territory over a period of 3 years in eastern Ladakh (A. St-Louis, pers. obs.). Bachelor groups are also common (Schaller 1998, A. St-Louis pers. obs.). Kiangs normally foal in July and August (some in June and September), which is also the period of time in which females appear to come into estrus (Schaller 1998). During this season, males are often solitary and spaced in such a fashion as to appear to be territorial. Group sizes also tend to be smaller during this season. Females of the same reproductive stage are often associated. Large aggregations may form on good pasture during the fall and winter (Schaller 1998). Kiang mares have a gestation period of 355 days. Kiang are usually solitary or are found in small herds. Herds congregate on good pastures in autumn and winter, at times in herds of 300 to 400 (Schäfer 1937; Schaller 1998; Shahand Huibin 2000). More than 500 kiang were seen in one group in December 1999 (Shah and Huibin 2000).
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
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
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Qinghai and Gansu (China)
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 the 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 100,000 km² where the highest kiang density occurs (Schaller 1998). Kiangs 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 1,500–2,000 kiang: a density of about 0.1 animal/km² (Schaller et al. 1991). In the Yeniugou valley in southwest of the province, Harris et al. (1999) estimated a population of 843 individuals in 1,051 km² in 1991, counted less than 100 in 1992, and in 1997 counted 418 kiang. In Wudaoliang, 213 kiang were seen in 2,100 km² and 1,500–2,000 were estimated in 20,000 km² (Schaller et al. 1991). On the Qinghai-Tibet border, 510 kiang were counted in 2,736 km² (Feng 1991) and 1,000–1,500 kiang were estimated in a 75,000 km² area. Three hundred and twenty kiang were counted between March and July 1997 north of Qingha Hu, Huashixia (Maduo county) and Tuotuoheyan (Foggin 2000).
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 occur in the Aksai area adjacent to the Qinghai Boundary (R. Harris in litt., 1999).
In Xinjiang, the best known kiang population is in the Arjin Shan Nature Reserve (Altun Mountain Nature Reserve; Achuff and Petocz 1988). Kiang seem to be flourishing, and have replaced chirus (or Tibetan antelope, Phantolops hodgsoni) as the most numerous large mammal in the reserve (J. Gaw in litt., 1997), with a population estimate of 2,000-3,500 (Shah and Huibin, 2000). 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 4,000 km² area (Schaller 1998). A survey of 23,000 km² in 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 1,030 km². These numbers were extrapolated to an estimate of 41,262 kiangs for the whole reserve (Gao and Gu (1989), which is considered much too high by Schaller (1998). 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 1999b). Taking all the above surveys and estimates into account, Shah and Huibin (2000) derived their total kiang population of the area at 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, the species was last seen in the Taxkorgan Nature Reserve during the 1950s (Schaller et al. 1987). Kiang still occur in the Aksai Chin region of Xinjiang, but there have been no surveys (Schaller 1998).
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 Himalaya west of Bhutan (Schaller 1998). Kiang were sighted north of the Tibet-Sikkim border (Shah 1994). Kiang occur in the Qomolangma Reserve, but estimates are not clear, ranging from <50 up to 300 individuals (Jackson 1991; Schaller 1998). In southwestern Tibet, the kiang population is fragmented along the foothills of the Himalaya (R. Jackson pers. comm., Schaller 1998). A vehicle survey was conducted in September 2000 in south, southwest and central Tibet, covering the area between Nyalam-Lhatse-Saga-Mansarovar-Gar-Gerze-Dong Co-Coqen-Saga-PaikaTso-where 421 kiang were sighted in 2,660 km of travel (Shah and van Gruisen 2000). An encounter rate of 1.4 kiang/km was obtained between Mayumla and Mansarovar (Shah and van Gruisen 2000). Kiang were also sighted in the Gakyi, Gerze, Tsochen, and Raga areas (Shah and van Gruisen 2000). In the eastern part of their Tibet range, kiang occur around Chigo Co in three populations and others persist just south of Yamdrok Co, totaling not more than 200 animals (Schaller 1998). In the Chang Tang region, the eastern area located east of a line from Nam Co to Siling Co is now almost devoid of kiang (Schaller 1998). Kiang, however, are widely distributed and moderately common to the west and north of Siling Co, including the whole Chang Tang Nature Reserve, (Schaller 1998).They were also sighted along the road that crosses Chang Tang north to Coqen and west in Gerze and Shiquanhe (Schaller 1998). In 1990, the Aru Basin had an estimated 250 kiang in 1,800 km² (0.14/km²; Schaller and Gu 1994). Based on Schaller’s work, the number of kiang in the reserve would be between 21,743 and 28,006 in an area of 334,000 km² (or 18,488 to 23,813 in the official area of 284,000 km²). A team of Chinese scientists carried out research in the Karakoram and Kunlun Mountain systems and reported the occurrence of large herds of kiang roaming around the Memar Lake (Rasool 1992). Kiang have been reported from Phala (300 miles north-west of Lhasa) and Motsobunnyi Lake (Goldstein and Beall 1989). A concentration of 806 kiang south of Yibug Caka was sighted in October 1993 (Schaller 1998).
Outside China, kiang numbers are small. In India the largest populations are in eastern Ladakh, in the 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 an area of 6,000 km² in Ladakh, kiang numbers have been greatly reduced in many areas (Fox et al. 1991). Approximately 1,500 to 1,600 kiang are distributed over an estimated range of 15,000 km² in the Trans-Himalayan region with no protected areas (Chundawat and Rawat 1994). Reports state that kiang are numerous in the Eastern Plateau in Ladakh around Tso Moriri (Mallon 1991). The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Department, Leh, conducted a census in 1988 and estimated a total of 1,500 kiang, and in 1994 counted 1,518 kiang in East Ladakh (Ladakh Wildlife Department, Jammu and Kashmir State Forest Department). 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; Chumur was not surveyed due to bad weather (Shah 1996). A high encounter rate of 12.64 kiang/km was obtained along the Indus (278 kiang counted, Shah 1996), whilst 574 kiang were counted in a survey in July 2000, at an encounter rate of 0.92 kiang/km (Bhatnagar 2000). 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, south-east 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 Lahul and Spiti (Himachal Pradesh) informants, kiang in small numbers have been sighted north of Kibar, along the Jammu and Kashmir/Himachal Pradesh state boundary (Y.V. Bhatnagar and C. Mishra pers. comm.).
Elsewhere in India, the kiang population in Sikkim was recently thought to be extinct (Duncan 1992). However, two surveys conducted in 1994 and 1995 in north Sikkim confirmed their continued existence in a 200 km² area close to the Indo-Tibetan border, at an altitude between 5,100 m and 5,400 m (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 74–120 individuals (Shah 1994). This area has no protected status as it comes under army jurisdiction (Shah 1994, 1997)
The continued presence of the species in extreme northeastern Pakistan has been confirmed (Wegge 1988). An isolated population of 20 to 25 kiangs is sporadically distributed towards the easternmost 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 population status remains unknown (Rasool 1992).
In Nepal the status of the species is still very uncertain. There are records 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 wander across the border with China or to animals permanently living in Nepal.
Recent kiang surveys (after 1999)
Surveys were conducted in the eastern part of the Chang Tang Nature Reserve in an area northwest of Siling Co by Schaller et al. (2005) to assess changes in the wildlife populations since the early 1990s. The density of kiang was more than twice that observed in 1991, with 2,266 kiang counted in an area of 11,870 km², compared to 1,224 kiang seen over an area of 17,500 km² (Schaller et al. 2005). Whether this trend can be generalized to other parts of the kiang distribution range remains unclear, but these observations suggests that there is an increase in kiang numbers within the Chang Tang Nature Reserve (Schaller et al. 2005). Surveys were also conducted between 1999 and 2002 across the Chang Tang Nature Reserve to assess the influence of human presence on ungulate densities (Fox and Bårdsen 2005). These surveys revealed that kiang are well distributed across the reserve but tend to be concentrated in areas with low human presence. 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 medium human presence were estimated at 0.88 individuals/km² (encounter rate = 0.06-0.16 kiang/km; Fox and Bårdsen 2005).
A recent 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 censused (48%) were seen near the end of the transect line near the Golmud-Lhasa (Schaller et al. 2007).
In Ladakh, Bhatnagar et al (2006) estimated a mean density of 0.24 individuals/km² in a wide survey of Ladakh, and concentrations up to 0.56 individuals/km² in the Hanle valley. The general figure for Ladakh is thus comparable with the densities estimated in the 1980s (0.25 individuals; Fox et al. 1991).
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). There are plans to make this valley a hunting reserve (Schaller 1998). In 1994, 2,000 to 3,000 gold diggers from Qinghai Province moved into the Nyima area (Southern boundary of the Reserve). Oil exploration teams were also in the area at the same time. Such extractive works should be monitored to avoid damage to the environment and to control illegal hunting by oil workers and miners (Miller and Schaller 1997). 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.).
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 1999b). 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 analyzed and monitored, with special attention to the possibility of disease transmission.
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 and 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). The complex system of rotational grazing, which has succeeded in maintaining the rangelands, is being modified. Nomad groups now fence winter pastures and some have built long fences across valleys and hills to keep wildlife out, which will affect the kiang and chiru populations (Miller and Schaller 1997; Shah and Huibin 2000; Shah and van Gruisen 2000; Schaller et al. 2005). The current development priorities that will affect the kiang is “sedentarisation” of pastoralists. This will 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 2008). But since the hunting ban also prevents subsistence hunting - such as in northwest Tibet for example, where it used to be common - an intensification of rangeland use may meet the needs of the local people (Fox and Tsering 2005). In southern Tibet there may be less than 2,500 kiang. If this is a separate subspecies it will be important to carefully monitor their status (Neumann-Denzau and Denzau 2003).
Ladakh (India): Approximately 215,000 domestic livestock (90% represented by sheep and goat and 10% by yaks and horses) compete with an estimated 5,000 wild ungulates (Bhatnagar et al. 2006) in the Changthang region. 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 pastoralists and the local administration. A decreasing tolerance for kiang may thus lead to a “worsening willingness to preserve it” by local authorities (Bhatnagar et al. 2006:935). Other disturbances also arise from, 1) road networks being established for strategic reasons; 2) the State Tourist Department planning to open up new areas in the upper Indus Valley towards the Tibetan border, allowing pilgrims to visit the holy “Mount Kailash” directly from Ladakh (Pfister 1998), which would occur through the major kiang habitats in Dungti and Fukche areas.
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 period, 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).
Conservation and research recommendations include:
• Research on the molecular genetics of the taxonomic status of the three subspecies of kiang, with urgent emphasis on the status of E. k. polyodon.
• Coordinated surveys on the present distribution, population numbers and trends, using comparative methodologies.
• 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 using individually recognized animals should be implemented (i.e. to understand life-history strategies, movements patterns, resource selection patterns, etc.)
• Carry out studies of ecology or seasonal movement patterns. These two types of data are necessary to develop sound management plans. In addition, information on species’ requirements (e.g., forage, water, range) would be helpful to ensure that other species-specific or ecosystem management plans incorporate aspects important to kiang biology.
• Develop and implement mitigation management plans to reduce conflict between kiangs and domestic livestock.
• Develop a protocol for disease monitoring.
• 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. This is especially important in areas where kiang may be moving between protected, non-protected, and/or military areas.
• The transboundary 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 three years would help to portray the true conservation status of the species as it exists in the field, and the effectiveness of the conservation measures that have been taken.
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.
- St-Louis, A. & Côté, S. (2009). "Equus kiang (Perissodactyla: Equidae)". Mammalian Species 835: 1–11. doi:10.1644/835.1.
- Shah, N. (2002). Moehlman, P.D., ed. Equids: zebras, asses and horses. Status survey and conservation action plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. pp. 72–81.
- Harris, R.B. & Miller, D.J. (1995). "Overlap in summer habitats and diets of Tibetan Plateau ungulates". Mammalia 59 (2): 197–212. doi:10.1515/mamm.19220.127.116.11.
- 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.