All You Need to Know about Marco Polo Sheep and Why they are So Important

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September 15th 2015
Published: September 15th 2015
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With winding and long horns for distinction, Marco Polo sheep are among the most iconic wildlife nature has to offer. They have the longest horns any sheep species has in the word with the recorded piece having been around 2meters in length. They mainly inhabit China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan where they live in steep valleys, mountains, gentle slopes and highland pastures at altitudes between 12.1 and 15.7 feet above sea level. Since their discovery in 1273 by Marco Polo who they are named after, they have come to be appreciated and cherished by many for their unique looks and what they offer. They have especially sparkled interest from poachers who hunt them for their beautiful horns to use as trophies. They are now characterized as being near threatened species and are clearly on their way to being termed as endangered.

Marco polo sheep bear the scientific name Ovis ammon polii and are among the 9 argali subspecies. They are also known as Pamir Argali or Marco Polo’s Argali. But why the name Marco Polo sheep? They were first described by Marco Polo in his book The Travels of Marco Polo and since then have been named after him. Scientifically, they were first described by a zoologist by the name Edward Blyth in 1841.

While the horns are the most incredible traits of the Marco Polo sheep, there are several traits that distinguish them and make them a spectacle for those touring the Asian pastures. Their unique horns begin growing when they are 15 to 20 days old and lengthen tremendously within the first year. Thickness begins to increase in the second year of life. The growth is seen in a cockscrew manner being parallel to the ground. On a male, the number of spins indicates their age with each ring representing a year. They have brown-colored fur with white parts in the under part and the rump. Separating the white and brown parts is a black band on the lateral sides of the body. A unique trait is seen in males whose hair lengthens extensively as winter approaches. This however is not seen in females who have a lighter coat. In terms of growth, Marco Polo sheep can reach up to 6feet in length and 278lb in weight. Unlike the horns, the tails are short going up to 6.3inches in length.

Marco polo sheep are active during the day and herbivorous. In winter when the plant leaves are all covered up, they dig roots from the ground for their consumption. Another survival tactic they employ during winter is the migratory movement from the mountains towards the pastures. Another change is that males and female family groups combine during winter in large groups of 50 to 90. During summer and spring, the sexes remain in separate groups each composed of 10members. Their mating season is usually in December. This mating however is not for all as the males fight to get the opportunity to mate and only the dominant males get to mate with a harem of females. Gestation period of Marco Polo sheep is about 160days and each female gives birth to one lamb. Sexual maturity for females is reached at 2years for females and 5years for females.

They are prey to several predators including leopards, foxes, golden eagle and wolves. The average survival period is 13years in the wild.


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