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Wild Asian Ass (no, really)

Eleanor Konik
Written by Eleanor Konik

I write stories & articles inspired by all eras of history & science... so I wind up putting notetaking software like Obsidian & Readwise thru their paces.

2 min read.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
One of the difficult parts of worldbuilding a Bronze Age setting is that a lot of the animals we take for granted in fiction -- like horses -- didn't really exist yet. So while bronze age steppe nomads might have taken the first steps toward breeding horses, their mounts would not look or behave like modern horses but rather might resemble the onager—also known as the Asiatic or African wild ass, the likely ancestor of modern donkeys.

Fun Facts

  • The mangonel, a medieval siege weapon, is also known as an “onager catapult” because when the sling fires, it resembles a donkey kick.
  • The onager is the most horse-like ass species in the world.
  • The Persian onager's native range spans the Black Sea to the Yellow River, which is roughly the region of the world most of history's steppe nomad tribes inhabited. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Onagers are better able to independently reason than a horse and are not as easily frightened. This is the trait that makes donkeys hard to deal with sometimes.
  • Rock art on the Arabian Peninsula shows asses/onagers being hunted by bow hunters and packs of dogs during the neolithic age.

Love Comes in Many Forms

Some onager herds are set up like harems, with one male that protections a bunch of females. Other onager herds are all male, or all female. Some all-female herds roam within the territory of a single male, while others roam between the territories of different males depending on preference. It's almost like species can have internal variance when it comes to relationship styles... [Read More]

Moms Need A Drink

Onagers live in groups of anywhere from 1 (typically older males) to 300 (typically divided up into subgroups). The most typical group size is about 10 females in a harem with one male. How many onagers will be in a given region mostly depends on how much food available within a 20-30km radius of a water source, because lactating onagers need a lot of water, although typically their food has enough. [Read More]

Father Gelder

Ancient writers like Pliny the Elder claimed that when a wild ass was born, its father would bite off its testicles in order to ensure that it did not grow up to be a rival. It's not clear why they wouldn't kill the baby males outright for using up resources, though. Anyway, allegedly this led to females hiding their offspring from the lead stallion. [Read More]

Fast & Loud

Wild asses are one of the top 20 fastest mammals on Earth. They're roughly as fast as a greyhound or thoroughbred racehorse. They were also one of the first domesticated beasts of burden, and their braying was said to predict the Spring Equinox, which is about 3 months before their mating season. [Read More]

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