Ovis ammon
Population size
80-90 Thou
Life Span
10-13 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The argali (Ovis ammon) is a wild sheep that roams the highlands of western East Asia, the Himalayas, Tibet, and the Altai Mountains. It is the largest species of wild sheep.


The general coloration of argali varies between each animal, from a light yellow to a reddish-brown to a dark grey-brown. Argali from the Himalayas are usually relatively dark, whereas those from Russian ranges are often relatively pale. In summertime, the coat is often lightly spotted with a salt-and-pepper pattern. The back is darker than the sides, which gradually lighten in color. The face, tail and the buttocks are yellowish-white. The male has a whitish neck ruff and a dorsal crest and is usually slightly darker in color than the female. Males have two large corkscrew shaped horns, some measuring 190 cm (6 ft 3 in) in total length and weighing up to 23 kg (51 lb). Males use their horns for competing with one another. Females also carry horns, but they are much smaller, usually measuring less than 60 cm (24 in) in total length.




Argali are found from central Kazakhstan in the west to the Shanxi Province in China in the east and from the Altai Mountains in the north to the Himalayas to the south. They are a species of mountainous areas. In protected areas, argali usually prefer gently sloping areas with soft broken terrain, although females with lambs often take up residence in more precipitous areas, characterized by canyons and jagged rocks. In areas where they are extensively hunted (such as Kazakhstan), they are usually found in forested areas. Argali may search for regions in the mountains where snow cover is not heavy during the winter, following winds that blow snow off the earth. Males are usually found at higher elevations more regularly than females and stay at higher elevations longer during the winter.

Argali habitat map

Climate zones

Argali habitat map
Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

Habits and Lifestyle

Argali are grazers and are active during the day. They are herding animals, usually found in groups numbering 2 to 100 animals. The herds are segregated by gender except during the mating season. Argali are very social and act in a calm and non-aggressive manner towards other argalis. Members of a herd follow one another, and individuals often seek contact with each other. Argali rarely use their horns in defense against predators. They use avoidance and speedy flight instead, as their primary strategies to avoid the threat of predators. When scared, a solitary argali may stay motionless until the threat has gone, very different behavior when in the herd, when an alarm will make them jump and run away. Argali communicate by hissing through their nostrils or grunting. Communication is important between mothers and young and it is based on oral, visual, and scent confirmations.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Argali are herbivorous, eating grasses, herbs, and sedges.

Mating Habits

150-180 days
1-2 lambs
4 months
ewe, dam
buck, ram
lamb, lambkin

Argali are polygynandrous; this means that both males and females mate with multiple partners. A dominant male mates with many females and will herd his harem during the rut. Female argali will mate with many males if there is the opportunity, which may arise when dominance among the males changes or if a female leaves to join another herd. Mating takes place in the fall and early winter. The gestation period is 150 to 180 days. A female gives birth to one, sometimes two precocial lambs. The females separate from their herds to give birth, remaining separated for several days. During this period, the lamb lies motionless while its mother grazes. A lamb is weaned at about four months old and usually joins a social group with other lambs. Females reach sexual maturity at 2 years old and males by the age of 5.


Population threats

This species is threatened throughout its range but some of the subspecies are much worse off than others. Perhaps the main threats to their survival are grazing competition and displacement by domestic sheep as well as possible disease transmission. The other threats to argali are habitat loss and over-hunting. They are killed for their meat and magnificent horns, which are traditionally valued by local hunters.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of argali is about 80,000-90,000 individuals. There are estimates for this species in these regions: China - 23,298 and 31,910 individuals; India- around 200 individuals; Kazakhstan - 13, 500 individuals; Kyrgyzstan - 15,900 argalis; Mongolia - 13,000-15,000 argalis; Russia - around 290 argalis; Tajikistan - 13,000-14,000 argalis; Uzbekistan - 1,800 argalis. Overall this species' numbers are decreasing today and it is classified as near threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List.

Ecological niche

Argali have a role to play in plant succession, as their feeding habits enable grasses to flourish rather than sedges. They are a very important item of prey for the endangered snow leopard.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The name 'argali' is the Mongolian word for wild sheep.
  • Most sheep's milk produced around the world is made into cheese, including feta, ricotta, pecorino, Roquefort, and Romano.
  • Argali rams stand up on their back legs to slam their horns into one another to compete for mating rights, and they make so much noise they can be heard a kilometer away.
  • Argali grow several layers of fur so they can survive Mongolia's harsh mountain winters: long and hollow insulating fur on top of their usual summer fur over the top of dense, short fuzz. From mid-spring until late summer, they only have the middle layer.
  • Argali milk has a fat content of 6%, the same as yak milk so that the lambs can stay warm.
  • Argali get nutrients by eating salty dirt, which they find inside caves on mountains.
  • The first European who described argali was William of Rubruck in 1253, a monk who had been sent to Mongolia, who described them as having the bodies of bears with the horns of rams. Europeans did not believe that a sheep bigger than a cow existed, until 1838 when John Wood sent the Royal Society in England some horns from Afghanistan.

Coloring Pages


1. Argali Wikipedia article -
2. Argali on The IUCN Red List site -

More Fascinating Animals to Learn About