Up above in the montane and alpine grasslands of the Himalayas you can find the iconic Kiang or Tibetan ass, as it’s commonly known. Of all the wild equids, the Tibetan ass is perhaps the most elusive and least studied, which is why Prameek M. Kannan, a graduate student from Pace University, U.S.A, set out to make the first ethograms for this species — that is, a complete description of its behavior. He got more than he bargained for, though, once he found some sneaky asses displayed previously undocumented courting behavior.
That’s a real ass
Most sexually active male equids stick to their well-established territories, but Kannan found some encroached on this tacit contract and violated the territories of other males to court females within. Battling chilling temperatures and harsh weather, Kannan diligently documented instances of this sort of behavior.
Wild male equids, like the fabulous Spanish Mustangs and wild Burroughs, typically form two distinct groups: there’s the social bachelor, then there’s the solitary but territorial male. What Kannan found was a third group — the aptly named ‘transients’.
What the transient Tibetan asses routinely do is they covertly sneak into other males’ territories, look for mating opportunities, then quickly retreat. This tactic seems to secure mating opportunities for some of these asses before becoming detected.
While some of the territorial males might have been furious about it, Kannan who did not share their grief was very enthusiastic about his findings. He said it was “a joy to learn something about the unique courtship behavior of a maligned species that has not been thoroughly studied”.
Next, Kannan and colleagues hope to use genetic tools to study these transient males and learn why they basically behave like ‘home wreckers’. It’s not yet clear whether these transient males employ an alternate mating system or are simply going through a phase in their lives, somewhere in between bachelor and family guy.
“While I’m excited about this discovery for science, I am equally pleased for the success of a recent graduate that gave up the creature comforts of modern living in NYC, to endure rough field conditions that persistently challenged his health and ability to cope in some of the harshest environments on Earth,” said Dr. Michael H. Parsons of Hofstra University, who is Kannan’s supervisor “To me, overcoming the challenges of science in such hostile environments should be celebrated, especially when it results in naming a new social class.”