Monday, March 31, 2014

Aoudad, or Barbary Sheep in the American Southwest

Aoudad, or Barbary Sheep eating cactus on the roadside in Lincoln, County, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

I first saw a Barbary Sheep while exploring Billy the Kid country in Lincoln County, New Mexico. I had no idea Barbary Sheep existed and I was captivated by their beauty--like miniature, shaggy, bighorn sheep. I quickly learned that they are an "immigrant animal," as the Bureau of Land Management likes to call any creature they intend to kill until they are extinct.

Where did They Come From?

According to The Mammals of Texas Online, Aoudad were first displayed in American zoos around 1900. In 1950, fifty-seven zoo-bred animals were released alongside the Canadian River in New Mexico. According to Douglas Hampy's "Home Range and Seasonal Movement of Barbary Sheep in the Palo Duro Canyon," in 1957 and 1958, thirty-three Aoudad were collected from the New Mexico stock and released near Claude, Texas. Fourteen additional sheep were collected and released near Silverton, Texas in the Palo Duro Canyon.

Aoudad in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Aoudad are also located on hunting reserves in eight Texas counties. It is suspected that small populations have escaped from these hunting reserves through the years, increasing the range and number of Aoudad in Texas and New Mexico. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Aoudad was also introduced into Mexico and Spain with similar success to the U.S. populations.

So, the Aoudad, or Barbary Sheep, were first brought to the US for hunters, escaped the massive hunting ranches in Texas and are now thriving along the border of New Mexico and Texas. That's called "Wildlife Management" in Texas--we import endangered species, sell hunting licenses at shocking rates, lure the animals out into the open with bags of corn, then shoot them. When they are close to being completely wiped off the face of the earth the government finally acknowledges the activists and throws a few pennies their way for breeding programs so the animals can return to their original low numbers and we can start shipping them to Texas hunting ranches again.

Aoudad in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Aoudad, or Barbary Sheep, vulnerable to extinction in their native North Africa, are thriving on the dry, rough terrain of the American Southwest where they have learned to escape the hunting ranch fences and hide from the hunters. In the arid American Southwest where the prickly pear cactus grow in tall stacks upon the hillsides and Billy the Kid once roamed, the Aoudad, or Barbary Sheep, now pick their way through the rocks and hide from hunters in the thick, live oak forests.

What Exactly is an Aoudad?

Aoudad are natives of North Africa, the only wild sheep indigenous to Africa, and vulnerable to extinction in their native land, but they are making a remarkable comeback in the historic Lincoln County of New Mexico and Llano County in Texas.

Aoudad are a species of Goat-antelope, or caprid. They are also known as Barbary Sheep, Waddan, Arui and Aruiss. According to The Mammals of Texas Online, they live in groups that include both sexes and all ages. Like Bighorn Sheep, they easily negotiate rocky hillsides and prefer a dry, waterless habitat.

Aoudad in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

They are as rough and wild as the land they now inhabit with their long, straggly coats. They have thick, scraggly, tan coats with hints of red that grow darker as they grow older. The undercoat is lighter, and on males, this lighter color also appears on the chest and front legs. Aoudad do not have beards like goats, but they do have hair on their throat that is also lighter in color. The tail of an Aoudad is fringed and 6 to 8 inches long.

One of the most distinctive features of the Aoudad ram is its wrinkled, curved horns rising from the peak of its head and curling back and thinning to a point as they curve around toward their backs, growing as much as 22 inches long. Females have similar, though smaller, horns.

The height of the Aoudad ranges from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 feet to the shoulder and they are generally 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 feet long. They can weigh anywhere from 70 to 300 pounds!

The Aoudad female can give birth twice a year and they breed any time, but prefer September through November so their offspring will arrive in the spring months of March through May. Gestation is 160 days. According to Brent Huffman's Ultimate Ungulate, newborn Aoudad can be seen picking their way along the rocky hillsides almost immediately after birth.

Those Sneaky Little Immigrants!

Sadly, it is legal to hunt Aoudads in New Mexico and Texas with a valid hunting permit. It is doubtful that they will ever be considered endangered in the US because they were originally imported for hunting purposes and are not a native species. The Bureau of Land Management often refers to animals such as this as "immigrants" in press releases. Perhaps they think this will make us feel more comfortable seeing their carcasses on the side of the road if they can convince us the animals are stealing our jobs or living off our tax dollars.

Hunting permits were first issued in 1963 because the introduction of the species was so successful that it was deemed necessary to "cull the herds." According to The Mammals of Texas Online, by 1966, the Aoudad population in Palo Duro Canyon had increased to 500 sheep. According to the Harding County, New Mexico website, by 1987, the statewide population of Aoudads in New Mexico was over 20,000. Then again, I suppose it's important to keep in mind that in the American South and Southwest it is legal to shoot just about anything.

  • "Ammotragus lervia." The IUCN List of Endangered Species. Retrieved March 28, 2011. 
  • "Barbary Sheep." The Mammals of Texas Online. Natural Science Research Laboratory at the Museum of Texas Tech University. Retrieved April 15, 2011. 
  • Garrison, Mary Helen. "Barbary Sheep." Harding County, New Mexico: Northeastern New Mexico. Retrieved April 14, 2011. 
  • Hampy, Douglas Brent. "Home Range and Seasonal Movement of Barbary Sheep in the Palo Duro Canyon." Masters Thesis, Texas Tech University, 1978. 
  • Huffman, Brent. "Ammotragus lervia." Aoudad, Barbary Sheep. The Ultimate Ungulate. Retrieved April 14, 2011.