“They were highly valued, very expensive,” says paleogeneticist Eva-Maria Geigl of Institut Jacques Monod in Paris. Geigl and her colleagues analyzed a kunga’s genome, or genetic instruction book, and compared it with those of horses, donkeys and Asiatic wild asses, including the hemippe (Equus hemionus hemippus), which has been extinct since 1929. The kunga’s mother was a donkey and its father a hemippe, making it the oldest evidence of humans creating hybrid animals. A mule from 1000 B.C. in Anatolia reported by the same research group in 2020 is the next oldest hybrid. Geigl thinks kungas were created for warfare, as they could pull wagons. Coaxing donkeys into dangerous situations is hard, she says, and no Asiatic wild ass can be tamed. But a hybrid might have had the characteristics people sought.
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