The Mouflon, also known as urial, is a wild sheep found in many parts of the world and are widely regarded as the ancestor of modern-day domestic sheep, a process that started between 7000 – 11,000 years ago in the southwestern regions of Asia. The population of this sheep is decreasing rapidly; nonetheless, they are still hunted in the wild for their characteristic trophy horns.
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Mouflon Scientific Classification
Table Of Content
Table of Contents
Size: The head to tail length is around 110 – 145 cm.
Height: They stand at the height of around 0.9 m at the shoulders.
Weight: Males are slightly heavier at around 50 kg, while the females are around 35.
Body & Coat: Their long, slender legs display a vertical black line below the knees, while the belly is mostly white. The coat is made of long, coarse hair especially in the males. The color can vary from grey with a reddish hue, to brown and coffee. In the European population, the males are dark chestnut, while the females are beige.
Horns: Usually the males have large horns, which is around 25 inches in length, and are spiral or curved over their heads (which the females lack as a major sexual dimorphism).
In the wild, the longevity of the males is 8 to 10 years, and females is 10 to 12 years. They have been known to live for as long as 22.8 years in captivity.
Classification of Species of the Mouflon Sheep by Distribution
Biologists have disputes regarding the scientific classification of the species. While some claim that the mouflon is a subspecies of the domestic sheep, others consider them as a species by itself, and the ancestor of the modern-day domestic sheep. However, the MSW3 (Mammal Species of the World) has classified them under five subspecies, based on their range and characteristics as follows:
- Armenian mouflon (Armenian red sheep) – Ovis orientalis gmelini found in NW Iran, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and introduced in Texas, US.
- European mouflon – Ovis orientalis musimon found in many parts of Europe.
- Esfahan mouflon – Ovis orientalis isphahanica found in the Zagros Mountains in Iran.
- Cyprus mouflon – Ovis orientalis ophion that went almost extinct but now reportedly found only in Cyprus.
- Laristan mouflon – Ovis orientalis laristanica that are found in a fewdesertareas in the south of Iran.
These sheep are found in a wide variety of habitats, depending upon their range, from temperate mountain forests to desert conditions that include grassland chaparral forests, desert or dune savanna, as well as scrub forest mountains.
The mouflons are normally shy animals that come out from for foraging mostly in the evening or early morning. They would also not stay at one place for long.
During the day, they usually rest under overhanging bush or rocks, making sure they are well hidden so as to stay safe from the sudden attack of predators.
They are gregarious creatures, spending most of the time moving and grazing in non-territorial herds. They have highly developed herding or flocking instinct and can move in very large groups of up to even 1000 or more.
Many individuals develop special bonds with others and often become stressed if separated, and are seen searching for them, calling and pawing at the ground.
Like the domestic sheep, mouflons mostly graze on grasses rather than consuming plant matters like leaves and fruits from shrubs or trees, unless there is a scarcity of grass in their habitat.
Mating & Reproduction
The two sexes live in separate groups and only mingle during mating season. The rut or estrous cycle of the female normally falls in late September and early October, with one, sometimes two, lambs being born after a gestation period of five to six months, usually around March.
While competing for a ewe (female mouflon), the dominance of a ram (male mouflon) is determined by its age, as well as the size of the horns. While fighting, two males would crash their horns together to display dominance.
In order to initiate mating, the male would approach the female, and if the latter is interested in the act, the former would display a short mating ritual and would ride the female. After a successful mating, the ewe will undergo a gestation period of about 146 days (average).
Before birth, the female would go into cover to give birth to its offspring. The ewes generally give birth to one lamb; however, in some cases, they would also deliver twins. The newly born young animal takes only a few minutes’ time to be up on its feet.
The mother takes care of the young ones until they are weaned and ready to forage for themselves. The young ones, both males and females, attain the age of sexual maturity at about two to three years. However, it is unlikely for the males to reproduce before they are four years of age.
- The stomach of the mouflon is multi-chambered, having special microbes that are capable of breaking down the cellulose present in the cell walls of the fibrous plant matter they consume and digest them easily.
- The senses of these animals is extremely well developed as they are dependent on early detection of approaching predators and flight from them.
The natural predators of these animals were bears and wolves that have disappeared from their range. Foxes, eagles, and leopards do pose a threat to them, depending upon the subspecies.
The IUCN 3.1 has declared these animals as ‘VU’ (Vulnerable), considering their quick decrease in population rate.
- Biologists believe that mouflons were derived from a domestic sheep of Asia Minor several thousand years back (perhaps in the Neolithic period) that were introduced to the Mediterranean islands for the production of meat, fur, and milk.
- Though the females are usually hornless, the females from Corsica often bear small horns.
- These sheep have no leaders in their flocks, nor do they initiate aggressive behavior, like flight (except during the mating season). Such a peace-loving and humble instinct contribute to their economic significance since only a single shepherd can manage or control an entire lock at ease.