Barbary SheepScientific name: Ammotragus lervia
Conservation status: Vulnerable

Appearance

The Barbary sheep has a light reddish brown short, bristly outer coat that blends in well with the sandy rocks of the desert mountains, and darkens as the animal ages. Its underbelly is lighter in colour and a darker line along the back. One of the most distinguishable features about the Barbary sheep is the long, vertical fringe of hair that goes from the throat down to the upper part of the front legs. They have large horns that curve outwards, backwards and then inwards again, with the horns of the male being longer than those of the female.

The Barbary sheep is about 80 to 100cm (2.6 to 3.3ft) tall at the shoulder and they weigh between 40 to 140kg (88 to 310lb). The horns can reach up to about 50cm (20in).

Lifespan

The lifespan of the Barbary sheep is about 15 years although they have been known to live to 20 years.

Diet

Barbary sheep are grazers and will eat a wide variety of grasses, flowers, young plants, leaves and shrubs. They are able to go without water for a long period of time as they are able to get all the moisture that they need from the foods that they eat and dew. They are able to get moisture from the woody plants and grasses that they eat and dew from the leaves on cold desert nights. Even though they can get all the moisture from other sources if they are near water they will drink a lot and wallow in the water.

Habitat

Barbary sheep are naturally found in Northern Africa in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and northern Chad. There is introduced populations in southeastern Spain and southwestern United States, Mexico and some parts of Africa.

They are found in dry rocky mountainous areas and are very agile at jumping from stone to stone and climbing up steep inclines.

Reproduction

Although they can breed at any time of the year the peak breeding time is between September to November. The gestation period is about 160 days after which one to three kids are born. Twins are quite common in Barbary sheep and when food sources are plentiful three kids may be born at a time. The kids are weaned at about 3-4 months of age and reach sexual maturity after 18 months. A female can give birth twice a year. Newborn kids are able to handle the rocky mountain ranges almost immediately after they are born.

Social life

They live in small family groups usually having one dominant male for a group of females. The males will compete for breeding dominance but young and older males can live quite well in the same group.

As they live in desert areas they are usually most active at dawn and dusk and try to stay in the shade and shelter during the heat of the day.

They have exceptionally good balance to stay on the steep mountain ranges that they inhabit and have exceptional jumping power which means that they can jump over a 2 metre (6.6ft) obstacle from a standing start.

If they feel that they are threatened they will usually not run from the predator but will stand incredibly still which allows them to blend in with their surrondings to stay safe.

Quick facts

Aoudad is the name that is given to the Barbary sheep by the Berbers, who are a North African people.

Their horns are made of keratin (the same as our fingernails) and they grow throughout the animals lifetime. A new growth ring is made each winter.

They can jump incredibly high about 2 metres (6.6ft) from standing.