A WILD LIFE SAFARI ON FOOT

Updated: Jul 18

#WildAss #LittleRannOfKatch #NatureFeature


The Indian Wild Ass in Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India

No guide. No jeep. No map. Imagine a flat, cracked land extending from one end of the horizon to the other, 4954 sq km. of it. That’s the Wild Ass Sanctuary, India’s biggest wildlife sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch. And, I was stepping into it literally by foot. Oh, did I mention no weapon of protection even.

Having settled into my stay in Dasada, unmarked on Google Maps and 70km beyond the touristy accommodation cluster, I wondered about an evening safari. “Sure! You can go any time. Just walk down that path,” the owner of the stay, Devjibhai said, pointing to the path outside the main gate. “Within 5-10 minutes you’ll be able to spot them.

True to his word, within 7 minutes of walking to the sound of my boots squelching on the gravel road, in the midst of the the dry vegetation, I spotted them. And, they spotted me.

This is the territory of the Indian Wild Ass. Not too long ago, it used to roam all across southern Pakistan, in the provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan, Afghanistan and south-eastern Iran. Today, the Little Rann of Kutch and its surrounding areas of Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat is its last refuge. It prefers saline deserts (rann), arid grasslands and shrublands. Between dawn and dusk, all it does is grazes. And, that’s what this first bunch of Indian Wild Ass was doing.

We both stop in our tracks to size each other up. I slowly begin moving towards them. And, they slowly start retreating. I stop, and they stop. This happened several times. They would slowly shuffle further making any distance covered to get close to them futile.

The Wild Ass don’t appear to be either scared or aggressive. They just don’t want to be friends.

The Wild Ass, also called Indian Onager Khur or Ghudkhur in the local Gujarati language, don’t appear to be either scared or aggressive. They just don’t want to be friends. They watch my move with a slant glance that seems to avert eye contact. What if they have to acknowledge my presence and smile back! When they shift away from me, they do it politely, to not appear as if they are rudely fleeing the scene.

The Indian Wild Ass are shy and wary.

I also have a theory that they might be upset with the meaning humans have attached to their names.

The Khur survives where other animals cannot. It is one of the sturdiest animals in the world withstanding scorching mid-day temperature up to 48° C or more without any shelter in the midst of the desert facing long periods of drought. Beautiful with its sandy coat, shiny trimmed mane and innocent eyes, it has the grace of a horse and the face of a donkey.


Indian Wild Ass moves in clusters of 20-30

The deeper I went, I spotted more herds of 10-15 with the same behaviour. They like to keep their head down and do what they do best; look for fodder and sweet water through the day resigning only in hot afternoon hours.

After a couple of hours, I had played the stop-start game at varying pace with them. The sun was going down, I could very well have the company of chinkaras, striped hyenas, red foxes, desert cats and Indian wolves and the only thing on me is my DSLR. The owner had told me there was nothing to worry about, but he didn't know of my terrible sense of direction, which worsens after dark. I quicken my pace back.


I see more Indian Wild Ass in a jeep safari the next day with larger herd sizes of 25-30. It’s wonderful to know that at any point one can stop and stroll the cracked land and appreciate the hardship of the creatures in this bio-diversity.

It is clear that the Indian Wild Ass is a simple, guileless creature. But, it is smart enough to know that it needs to maintain its distance from the not-so-guileless humans.



SOME WONDERFUL TRIVIA ABOUT THE INDIAN WILD ASS

  • The wild ass belongs the family of ‘equide’ with cousins like horses, zebras and donkeys.

  • It is one of the fastest of Indian animals, with speeds of about 70 – 80 km. per hour and can easily outrun a jeep.

  • It is unknown how the Indian wild ass disappeared from its former haunts since the animal was never a hunting target of Maharajas and colonial British officials. The wild ass population drastically dropped after to the outbreak of South African Horse Sickness. Besides disease, the ass's other threats are habitat degradation due to salt activities, the invasion of the Prosopis juliflora shrub, and encroachment and grazing by the Maldhari tribal herdsmen.

  • First census of the wild ass was done in 1940, when there were an estimated 3,500 wild asses. But, by the year 1960, this figure fell to just 362, it was then classified as a HIGHLY ENDANGERED SPECIE. Conservation efforts have helped boost its population to >4800 in 2015.

  • This population of wild asses is the only gene pool of Indian wild asses in the entire world and one of the six geographical varieties or sub-species surviving on the planet.

  • Some of the other known species are Mongolian wild ass, Turkmenian kulan, Persian onager, Syrian wild ass or hemippe (extinct), Kiang or Tibetan wild ass

  • Saline deserts or rann, arid grasslands and shrublands are its preferred environments.

  • They feed on grass, leaves and fruits of plant, crop, pods, and saline vegetation.

  • Stallions live either solitarily, or in small groups of twos and threes while family herds remain large.

  • The bray of a wild ass is shriller than that of a domestic donkey.

  • The average life span of a wild ass is 20 to 25 years.

  • The wildlife sanctuary in Little Rann is one of the last places on earth where the endangered wild ass sub-species Indian Wild Ass or Khur can be spotted.

I also have a theory that they might be upset with the meaning humans have attached to their names.
Couldn't resist this one ;) Wild Asses at Dasada

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Hi! I'm Kunj. I live in Bangalore, India, but my heart travels to many parts of the world everyday.

 

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