Mouflon

This species is regarded as the original ancestor of today’s domestic sheep, a process that began 7000 - 11,000 years ago in southwestern Asia.

Sheep were one of the earliest domestic animals. They are now classed as a separate species, Ovis dries, although crossbreeding with wild species is still possible. Most of today’s domestic sheep are descended from the Asian mouflon, or urial (Ovis orientalis), although some breeds have ancestors that were European mouflons. The European mouflon’s original wild range was western Asia, but it was introduced to Europe thousands of years ago and now some of the few places where this species lives wild are reserves on the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sardinia.

Despite being the smallest wild sheep, European mouflons are sturdy animals, with a thickset neck and strong legs. Males are about 30 per cent larger than females. Adults have paler faces than the young and also grow paler with age.

The male has long, spiral horns, often with the tips curving inward; those of the female are short. It has a woolly underfleece, covered in winter by a coarse, blackish-brown top coat, with a distinctive white saddle patch in the male. In the summer this patch disappears. The female and young are gray or darker brown, with no patch.

Mouflon are active early and late in the day and do not wander far, even when food is scarce. They appear to be able to eat every type of vegetation - grass, flowers, buds and shoots of bushes and trees, even poisonous plants such as deadly nightshade, and so manage to survive.

Mouflons live in flocks. In summer the rams stay away from the ewes and young. Fights are rare and flock members seldom wander far from each other. However, this herd instinct may be due to some selective breeding in the past.

These wild sheep inhabit arid, mountainous areas. Rams live on their own, but ewes will mingle in flocks with their young. It takes up to nine years for the horns of rams to reach their maximum size, by which time they can weigh up to 5 kg (1 lib). The skull beneath is reinforced with extra bone, giving greater protection during the winter mating season when fighting between the rams is most likely to break out. Mouflon can also hybridize with domestic sheep.

Distribution: Europe, including Cyprus and Sardinia, where it has been introduced to many areas. Found in southwest Asia, extending through parts of Iran and the Caucasus region.

Habitat: Wooded areas on steep slopes.

Weight: 35 - 50 kg (89 - 110 lb); males are heavier.

Length: 127 - 195 cm (50 - 77 in), including tail; up to 90 cm (35 in) tall.

Maturity: 1 year, but may not breed for a further  2 years.

Gestation Period: 148 - 155 days.

Breeding: 1 - 2; weaning at around 120 - 150 days.

Food: Grazes on vegetation including grass and small plants in pasture.

Lifespan: Up to 20 years.

Status: Vulnerable.

Size

This is one of the smaller species of wild sheep.

Horns

The horns curl backwards then forwards and are only present in males.

Eyes

The irises are a yellowish colour. These sheep are known for their good vision.

Colouration

The ewe is more evenly coloured than the ram.

Appearance

Rams are a rich, dark reddish-brown colour and have a short, glossy coat that thickens in the winter.

A FIRST CLONING SUCCESS

With a severe decline in its numbers, scientists successfully cloned the mouflon in 2001, offering hope for other endangered species.

Gallery of Mouflon