Barbary Sheep

The Barbary Sheep (Ammotragus lervia) is a type of caprid (goat-antelope). Other names for the Barbary sheep include the Aoudad, Waddan, Arui and Arruis. The name Ammotragus means sand goat.

 

HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION

The Barbary sheep is an inhabitant of hot, dry places within mountainous areas. They are extremely agile running among the canyons and cliffs. Although native to North Africa, the Barbary sheep has also been introduced to North America, Central America and southern Europe.

 

DESCRIPTION

Like a large goat, the Barbary sheep has a thick robust body with large, thick recurved horns that reach 50cm and curve away from the body backwards, with the tips curving back towards the body. The fur is usually a tan or sandy colour (becoming darker with age), with the throat, inner legs and underbelly a paler cream/off-white colour. The back and outer legs are usually a darker reddish-brown colour, and there is a long mane along the throat and forelegs that extends down to the chest in males. The fur becomes long and woolly during the winter months, and moults in the summer. The Barbary sheep has a shoulder height of 0.8 - 1.0m, a head and body length of 1.3 - 1.6m and can weigh 40 - 140kg (females rarely weigh more than about 55kg).

 

The females horns are thinner, shorter and less ridged than the males. The females also weigh less, usually half of what the male weighs. Their long throat mane is usually shorter than the males.

 

DIET, BEHAVIOUR AND REPRODUCTION

The Barbary sheep is extremely at home on the steep, rocky mountains and hills it lives in. Nimble and sure-footed, this species is able to escape most predators by running and hopping up the cliff faces. Being active mainly early in the morning and late afternoon (crepuscular), the Barbary sheep can be seen cooling in the shade during the heat of the day. The areas although arid, are able to sustain the grasses, bushes, herbs and lichens on which the Barbary sheep feed. By feeding at night the lowering temperatures cause moisture droplets to form on the plants, this gives the Barbary sheep most of its moisture although it will also drink from liquid water sources.

 

Adult males butt heads to establish dominance, and in a rather gentlemanly fashion they will not charge if their opponent is off balance or unprepared. Usually 1 - 2 young are born after a gestation period of around 150 - 165 days.

 

OTHER NOTABLE FACTS

Some of the Barbary Sheep's predators include the Barbary Lion (Panthera leo leo), African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) and the Caracal (Caracal caracal), although the Barbary lion is now thought extinct in the wild. The lambs may also be predated by Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos). The Barbary sheep is the only wild sheep species in Africa, and the only member of the genus Ammotragus.

 

STATUS

The Barbary sheep is listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable. In many areas it competes for habitat and grazing with livestock, and it is also heavily hunted. Most subspecies are vulnerable, with the Egyptian subspecies almost on the brink of extinction. Once thought extinct, the Egyptian subspecies is believed to still roam the southwest and southeast of Egypt after new evidence was collected between 1997 - 2000.

 

SUBSPECIES

There are currently 6 subspecies of Barbary sheep:

 

(A. l. angusi)

(A. l. blainei)

(A. l. fassini)

(A. l. lervia)

Egyptian Barbary Sheep (A. l. ornata)

(A. l. sahariensis)