Element from ‘Warfare’ panel of Normal of Ur mosaic, c2600 BCE,
depicting kungas pulling 4-wheeled battle-wagon (© Zunkir/Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 4.0)

It is at all times good to study of a ‘new’
animal, even when it seems to be one that really existed 4 and a half
millennia in the past! And so, with no additional ado, please welcome to ShukerNature the

Depicted in Mesopotamian artwork and referred
to in cuneiform writings courting again 4500 years from the Fertile Crescent
area of the Center East, the long-vanished kunga was a strong horse-like
creature that was used as a draft animal to drag warfare wagons into battle and
royal chariots throughout ceremonial parades. Nonetheless, it has lengthy been a puzzle to
archaeologists and zoologists alike.

Shut-up of a kunga, as depicted in a element from ‘Warfare’ panel of
Normal of Ur mosaic, courting from c2600 BCE (© Agricolae/Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 3.0)

It’s because the home horse Equus caballus was not launched into
this area till 4000 years in the past, and the one recognized equine beasts that did
exist there on the time of the kunga had been the home donkey E. africanus asinus and the Syrian wild
ass (aka the hemippe) E. hemionus
, each of which had been smaller and much much less sturdy than the kunga. So
what was it?


A stupendous classic color portray by French artist Georges
Severeyns of a Syrian wild ass (the smallest kind of modern-day wild equid
recognized to science), in Nouvelles Archives
du Muséum d’histoire Naturelle
, 1869 (public area)

In contrast to many thriller beasts, there are
truly bodily, tangible stays of the kunga in existence, as a result of because it
was such a beneficial, helpful work beast, specimens had been typically buried
alongside individuals of excessive social standing, with a number of kunga skeletons having
been found on the northern Syrian burial complicated of Umm el-Marra.
Sadly, nonetheless, the bones of kungas, donkeys, wild asses, and horses as
nicely as mules and different equine hybrids, all look very related, so though
kunga bones have been examined, no conclusive identification of what the kunga
truly was has ever resulted – till earlier this yr.

In January 2022, revealed analysis within the
journal Science Advances revealed
that DNA samples had been extracted from the bones of 1 buried kunga specimen
from Umm el-Marra and subjected to comparative sequencing analyses with different
equine types. These analyses confirmed that it was a hybrid – likely the
offspring of an interspecific mating between a male Syrian wild ass and a
feminine home donkey.


Classic engraving from 1841 depicting some Syrian wild asses in
the wild state (public area)

Furthermore, as a result of such matings wouldn’t
happen naturally, and because the kunga, being a hybrid, was nearly actually sterile
(similar to the mule), male wild asses would wish to have been intentionally
captured and mated with feminine home donkeys frequently with a purpose to
perpetuate the kunga pressure 4500 years in the past within the Fertile Crescent – thereby
making the kunga the earliest recorded human-engineered hybrid. However when the
horse was launched right here 500 years later, the kunga was not wanted, so
the breeding of it ceased, and this outstanding creature duly vanished from


Syrian wild ass being captured by Assyrians, seventh Century BCE artwork
discovered at Nineveh (Wikipedia/no restrictions)

After all, one might ask why, now that the
kunga’s exact hybrid nature is lastly recognized, scientists are not excitedly proclaiming “Let’s
all do the kunga – let’s resurrect it!”, by as soon as once more mating male Syrian
wild asses with feminine home donkeys. The reply is as tragic as it’s
easy – no such restoration can happen as a result of the kunga’s paternal
progenitor, the Syrian wild ass, is itself now extinct, because of
over-hunting, with the final two recognized specimens each dying in 1927.

So until the kunga and/or the Syrian wild
ass may be recreated through genetic means within the laboratory someday, the kunga is
doomed perpetually to stay nothing extra important than a set of long-buried
bones, just a few transient mentions in cuneiform script, and a few preserved pictures in
historic artwork. RIP.


A trio of poignant images depicting one of many world’s final
recognized Syrian wild asses, a specimen residing at Vienna’s Tiergarten Schönbrunn in
1915, plus one {photograph} (at backside of photo-column) of a Syrian wild ass at
London Zoo in 1872 (public area)




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