The urial, also known as the arkars or shapo, is a subspecies group of the wild sheep. Six to nine subspecies can be recognized, differing in the size and color of the male's winter neck-ruff, and the color of its saddle patch and its horn shape. Males have massive horns, the females' horns being much smaller. Their hair is generally brownish red, and males have white ‘beards’ below their mouth, while females are usually the same color over their whole body, with the exception of their legs near the hooves.
The urial inhabits western central Asia from the northeast of Iran and the west of Kazakhstan to Balochistan in Pakistan and the Ladakh regions in North India. It lives in steep grassy terrain below the tree line. It may also occur in agricultural fields and occasionally in partly wooded, mountainous areas.
Habits and lifestyle
Urial sheep are primarily diurnal, and forage for most of the day. They move within a range, but they do not maintain territories. These sheep are gregarious, forming herds of related individuals. The make-up of a herd is usually females, lambs, and juveniles. Older rams form separate groups where the members are all male. Herds maintain a social structure where dominance is based on an animal's body size. These relationships are evident, particularly in ram herds, with dominance being based largely on horn size: the bigger the horns, the higher up the ranking is the individual. Dominant males are a stabilizing force for sheep society in that they prevent younger rams harassing females. These younger males are more bullying and aggressive towards ewes than the older males. Aggressive interactions between individuals of similar size usually include front kicks and head twists. These sheep do not rear up on their back legs when fighting.
drift, drove, flock, fold, herd, mob, trip
Diet and nutrition
Urial sheep are herbivorous and eat a range of unspecified plants, probably grasses and shrubs. They also eat grains.
Urial sheep are polygynous, which means that one male mates with multiple females. The mating season runs from November to December. Ewes bear one lamb after a 5-month gestation period. 2 or 3 lambs may be born to older ewes. Females separate themselves from their herd before giving birth. After birthing, mothers and their lambs stay away from the herd for a period of 3 to 7 days. This is a time when the lamb gains in strength and the mother and her baby learn to recognize one another by smell. They then return to their herd. Lambs nurse from their mothers for 5-6 months, possibly nibbling on vegetation within a month after birth. Ewes are sexually mature when they are 1.5 years old, and can produce their first offspring at 2 years of age.
Urial sheep are under threat from the expansion into their habitat of agriculture, other changes to their habitat by humans, and indiscriminate hunting for trophies, causing a serious decline in their population. These sheep are considered particularly vulnerable because they inhabit low, open country where livestock commonly graze, meaning that urial sheep must compete with domestic livestock for food.
The total number of urial sheep is unknown for today. According to the Wikipedia, there are 145 Afghan urials found in Surghar, Srakhowa District Musakhel (Pakistan). Urial sheep numbers are decreasing today and they are listed as vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List.
Urial sheep influence their habitat's vegetative composition through grazing.
Fun facts for kids
- The urial is the modern domestic sheep's ancestor, and is the oldest line of this species.
- Ewes and lambs recognize each other based on scent, olfactory communication thus playing an important part for this species.
- Sheep have great memories, and for years they can remember more than 50 individual sheep and people, by using a similar part of the brain and neural process that we use to remember.
- Sheep can self-medicate when they are ill, by eating particular plants that can cure them.
- Urial sheep are both gregarious (preferring to be in a group) and precocial (highly independent from birth).
- The Chinese zodiac includes sheep among the 12 animals. They represent sincerity, righteousness, gentleness, and compassion.
- A sheep can show emotions, indicated by the position of its ears.