24-30 October 2011
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Khur or Indian Wild Ass (Equus hemonius khur), Gujarat, India
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[Editor's note: This week
we again present a special contribution--
Explanation: It is June on the salt flats of the Little Rann of Kutch in the western Indian state of Gujarat, and the temperature is approaching 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius).
Most animals have retreated to burrows in the ground, but the Khur or Indian Wild Ass (Equus hemonius khur), a subspecies of the Asiatic Wild Ass, has nowhere to go ... but is somehow able to brave the intense heat by seeking shade in patches of shrubby habitat on the edges of the barren Rann.
Meanwhile, 750 miles to the northeast at Tso Kar ("salty lake" in the local language) in the northern Indian region of Ladakh, a similar species -- the Kiang or Tibetan Wild Ass (Equus kiang) -- is having a much easier time of it. Tso Kar is situated at approximately 15,000 feet (4,570 m) elevation on the Changthang Plateau, and enjoys much milder summer conditions than the scorching salt flats of Gujarat. The challenge for the Kiangs will come during winter when temperatures will plummet to -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 degrees Celsius) and it becomes a struggle to find sufficient forage.
Relief for the Khur will come in July when the annual monsoon arrives, and the cracked mud of the salt flats is transformed into a shallow lake. The Khur will then wade or swim to slightly elevated islands of habitat called "bets," where they feed on fresh, green vegetation. They also raid crops at night, which brings them into conflict with local farmers.
Both the Khur and the Kiang are able to digest coarse vegetation, some of which has a high saline content, that could not sustain other herbivores. Therefore, access to fresh water is essential for both species.
The Khur now occur only on the Little and Great Ranns of Gujarat. They are a threatened species, although their numbers have expanded recently to a total of approximately 4,000 animals.
The Kiang, however, reaches the southern limit of its range in northern India, with much larger numbers present on the Tibetan Plateau to the north where they share their grassland habitat with Tibetan Gazelles and Wild Yaks.
Both species face numerous threats to their continued survival, including competition with livestock, industrial salt extraction, invasive plants such as mesquite (Proposis juliflora), and diversion of fresh water for agriculture.
Next week's picture: Ghost of the Mines
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Bruce G. Marcot, Tom Bruce
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