Argali, also called the mountain sheep, just as the name suggests, is a sheep that lives in mountain areas of Central Asia. They are the largest and probably most impressive sheep, especially the males that are decorated by massive horns and ruff of white hair around the neck.
These sheep, that live mostly in Tibet, Himalaya and Altay have a rather dark fur, varying from yellow to brown and in fact their appearance reminds more of a goat. The horns of the males, which are used to compete with one another during the mating seasons, are highly prized by hunters. These massive horns can reach up to 190 cm (6 feet) measuring along the spiral and can even be 13% of the male’s body mass.
The majestic Argali live in packs ranging from 2 to 100 individuals, segregated by sex. They roam high areas of 1,300 to 6,100 metres above sea level and mostly feed of grass and herbs. These packs go together during the mating season, often violent fights happen between males. The sounds of horns clashing can be heard far away and are a subject to many beliefs of the citizens (for instance, if you hear horns clashing in the morning, you will earn money).
The digestion period takes 150 – 160 days and one or two lambs are born and the mothers take care of them for about 4 months, after which the lamb joins a herd as substantive member. Argalis become sexually mature at 2 years (females) or 5 years (males) and their lifespan is of about 12 years.
As most mountain herbivores, the Argali are threatened by wolves and snow leopards, however, living in packs mostly grants them a sense of security. The thing they can’t protect from is the actions of humans – their natural habitat is becoming more populated and polluted and they are in a constant move to new territories. Hunting is also a big reason for the decrease in the number of Argali found in the mountains – their meat is widely used as food and their spectacular horns are a trophy every hunter has a desire for.
The numbers of Argali sheep reduce every year and now IUCN classifies them as “Near Threatened”, which can be predicted to become “Endangered” soon enough if the harsh human actions against these animals continue. Hunting is the most damaging to the population of Argali and proper rules to control the number of animals hunted each year would be a big step towards preserving these majestic animals.
Next time you’re in Tibet, go out in the mountains in a spring morning and maybe you’ll hear the thunder-like sound of the horns crashing, as the Argali show their dominance.