The onager was a wild donkey that lived in the deserts of Syria.
The name onager comes from the Greek onagros or wild ass. Its scientific name is equus hemiomus onage.
In Arabic the onager is known as al-himar, al-wahshi, al fara’ and al-’ir, the latter name used for the domestic ass as well.
When water became scarce during the hot summer months, onagers drank salt water to survive.
The onager was a gregarious animal of the dry grassy plains and the Old Testament described its habitat precisely as “the steppe for his home and the salt land for his dwelling.” [Job 39:6]
ItThe onager was found in Palestine and the countries surrounding it for over 2000 years after the events of the Old Testament, but had almost disappeared by the middle of the nineteenth century.
A few onagers lived on in Iraq and southeast Jordan until the early 1900s, but now these are gone as well.
The onager’s speed and ability to withstand the worst conditions of the Hammad and Nafud deserts left its numbers unaffected despite the intensive hunting by successive cultures in the area. It was the coming of firearms and automobiles that tipped the scales against it.
As far as the records show the last wild Syrian onager was shot in 1927.