Sunny Sebastian

This rare horse-like donkey is known for its stamina and can reach speeds of up to 24 kmph

JAIPUR: Rare sightings of the Wild Ass have been reported from Rajasthan villages in Jalore district bordering the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. This breaks Gujarat’s supposed monopoly over the sub-species, also referred to as Khur (Equus hemionus khur).

There is historical evidence to show that the beautiful animal known for its stamina and speed used to inhabit the sandy, saline regions from Jaisalmer to Bikaner in Rajasthan stretching right up to the Pakistan border in the past, but it emerged in Rajasthan terrain recently when Muslim herdsmen in Khejariali village (not to confuse with Khejrali village near Jodhpur, known for brave Vishnois who got killed in the past resisting their ruler’s attempt to cut Khejri trees) in Jalore district’s Sanchore tehsil complained of invasion by a “ghoda jaisa gadha” (a donkey that looks like a horse). Later it was found that the animal which attacked the herdsmen’s horses was a Wild Ass!

Ravages cropland

The residents of Kukaria, a village bordering the flat salt lands of the Rann, talk about frequent raids on their cropland by Wild Ass herds. The animal’s population around Kukaria is estimated at around 150. Border Security Force jawans guarding the Nada bet (bets are natural platforms or islands in the saline flatland) on the India-Pakistan border too talk animatedly about sightings of the fast-running animal (it can run up to 24 km per hour), whose meat, as Emperor Jehangir testified in Jehangirnama, is reportedly good to eat.

The Wild Ass has started making its presence felt in Khejariali and its neighbourhood where a 60 sq km area was transferred to the Rajasthan Forest Department by the revenue authorities in 2007. The place has Rebaris (camel and sheep breeders) living in the juliflora jungles in the company of chinkaras, hyenas, common fox, desert cat and the wolf coming over as an occasional visitor.

An experts’ team comprising Rajpal Singh, Member of Rajasthan’s Empowered Committee on Environment and Wildlife, Tejvir Singh, Conservator of Forests (Western Circle, Jodhpur), along with the Assistant Conservator of Forests at Bhinmal and the Range Officer, surveyed the Rann Khar (In local parlance, “Khar” is salt land), located 60 km from Sanchore and spread over 200 sq km this past month. Monsoon period is flood time for the saline desert and normally the place remains inaccessible for about a month.

Population 3500-4000

This side of the Rann, in Rajasthan, can be considered part of the larger eco-tone, a transition area between marine and terrestrial eco-system. The Wild Ass population which had got confined to the Little Rann some time in the past has now spread to the Greater Rann as well, bordering Rajasthan, Pakistan and the Arabian Sea. The number of the animals at present is estimated at 3,500 to 4,000. The other sub-species of Wild Ass (Equus hemionus kiang) in India is found in Ladakh.