Three Persian onager foals were born in Front Royal last month — a delight for animal keepers and the onager mares.
The female onagers were especially excited about the first colt, born to Sayeh, according to a write-up on the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute website posted in August after the foal was born.
Persian onager keeper Morgan Vance noted in the story on the website that “They are usually very interested in what this uncoordinated lanky little creature is, especially the younger onagers that have never seen a foal.” Vance added that Dorri and Farah, who later gave birth to their own foals, “were extremely interested in the new foal.”
All three mares were new mothers, said Tara Buk, an animal keeper at the facility who also works with the onagers. She said Sayeh and Farah had colts and Dorri had a filly.
“The last ones that were born were in 2015,” Buk said. “It has been a while.”
With the three foals, the facility now has six males and six females.
“We haven’t had this many at one time for a few years,” Buk said. “The staff here is excited. … This helps contribute to the survival of the species.”
Persian onagers, which are native to Iran, are critically endangered in the wild, where only a few hundred of the animals remain. Also called Persian wild asses or Persian zebras, onagers are the most horse-like of the ass species, the SCBI notes at its website, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/persian-onager.
“The Persian onager’s population is estimated to be between 600 and 700 individuals living in two protected habitats in Iran,” the site state. “The largest population of Persian onagers is found in Turan National Park in Semnan.”
Though they’re not hunted like many other endangered species around the world, Buk said the onagers suffer from environmental factors in the wild like habitat fragmentation, habitat destruction and competition with domestic animals for water sources.
The SCBI is one of only three facilities that have Persian onagers, and Buk said its 3,000 acres in Warren County provide an unusually large amount of protected space for the onagers to flourish.
The institute is part of the Source Population Alliance, a collaborative group with more than 100,000 acres. They connect animal experts with a wide range of expertise, breeding centers, zoos and private landowners to form a security population in human care that protects the genetics of endangered animals in case they go extinct in the wild.
The SCBI’s work benefits onagers by boosting genetic diversity, managing natural resources to help the animals and helping them live in a more natural stable social grouping, Buk said.
Onagers take a while to breed, since females are pregnant for about a year and give birth to only one foal per pregnancy. Onagers live about 40 years in the wild.