Barbary Sheep of Morocco

Found in the Saharan Desert and along its borders, Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) are hardy animals perfectly adapted to thrive in arid and harsh conditions. These interesting mammals take advantage of food sources that other animals cannot reach and have been seen on the steep cliffs of the Moroccan High Atlas. They are easily identified by their thick spiraled horns, russet brown bristly coats and heavy fringes hanging from their throats. Both males and females have these distinguishing features. In the past, Barbary sheep were a common sight in North African counties, but now they are considered to be ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Males of the species can stand at more than a meter in height, measured at shoulder, and weigh up to 145 kg. Females are generally smaller in size and weight. Barbary sheep live in groups of around eight animals of varying ages. When breeding, the gestation period is 160 days. Between one and three lambs are born at a time, with the newborns being up and about and able to walk over tricky terrain in an amazingly short space of time.

Barbary sheep favor rocky terrain with steep cliffs and some trees for shade, but as they are able to derive all the moisture they need from the food they eat, they are often seen far from discernible water sources, although they are good at finding hidden mountain springs. They are quite creative when finding food and can be seen forcefully ramming the trunks of acacia trees to dislodge their seed pods, which they waste no time in consuming.

Their ability to speedily scale rocky crags and steep cliffs offers some protection from predators for Barbary sheep. Unfortunately, humans are their biggest threat, with hunters setting traps and using weapons against which Barbary sheep have no defenses. Desertification and loss of habitat are also problems for Barbary sheep. Fortunately, conservationists are aware of the plight of animals depending on the resources of Morocco’s national parks and Barbary sheep are among the animals being monitored by the Sahara Conservation Fund.