Barbary Sheep

As their name suggests, barbary sheep originally came from the Barbary Coast - the old name for the Magreb region in north-western Africa. The sheep’s local name is “aoudad”. Today the species is rare in its homeland but has been introduced to Germany and Italy and has also become feral in the south-western United States. This last region shares many similarities with its natural habitats. In the wild, barbary sheep live on the rocky slopes of the Atlas Mountains as high as the snow line.

Barbary sheep are a desert species. The high mountains may often be cold but they are also very dry, and as a result barbary sheep must be able to survive without drinking for long periods. Originating from a part of the world where there is little natural cover, Barbary sheep rely on the colour of their coats to avoid detection. If necessary, these sheep are agile enough to jump up over 1.8 m (6 ft), away from danger.

Barbary sheep live in flocks with a strict dominance hierarchy. This ranking system runs through both the male and female lines. Even juvenile sheep have a rank, which goes a long way to establishing their future position in adult society. The hierarchy is enforced through frequent violent confrontation, where rivals butt heads and hook horns in twisting wrestling matches.

Barbary sheep are sexually dimorphic (the sexes look different). Males weigh up to twice as much as the females. Both sexes have horns.

Most sheep mate in November. The gestation period is about 4 months, which means the lambs are born at the start of spring, when their chances of survival are best. Males will battle each other ferociously at the start of the breeding season, although these are largely trials of strength.

Distribution: The mountainous area of the western Sahara, extending to Egypt and Sudan. Has also been introduced to Spain and parts of the USA, including Texas.

Habitat: Deserts, canyons and mountains.

Weight: Females average 40 - 55 kg (88 - 110 lb); males average 100 - 145 kg (220 - 320 lb).

Length: 130 - 165 cm (51 - 65 in); females are smaller.

Maturity: 18 months to 2 years.

Gestation Period: About 5 1/2 months.

Breeding: 1 - 2 lambs, occasionally 3; ewes may produce two litters annually.

Food: Herbivorous, eats scrubby desert vegetation, including acacia shrub and lichen.

Lifespan: About 10 years in the wild; 20 years in a zoo.

Status: Vulnerable in natural range, although doing well in areas where introduced.


These grow away from the head, and then curve inwards, reaching up to 50cm (20in) in length.


Mainly sandy-brown, darkening with age.


The cloven hooves provide support when the sheep is climbing around on rocky outcrops.


Only the male has this trailing shaggy area of hair extending down from the lower jaw on to the chest.


Barbary sheep often frequent inaccessible rocky cliffs, sheltering there to avoid the heat of the desert sun at its hottest.