The Barbary sheep is a type of caprid (goat-antelope) endemic to the rocky mountains of North Africa. Although rare in its native country of North Africa, it was introduced to both North America and southern Europe, as well as other places. Aoudad is another name for this animal, a name used by the Berbers, who are natives of North Africa. Males and females both have horns, with those of the male being much longer, thicker, and more heavily ridged compared to the female’s more slender horns. Males are also much heavier, and their curtain of hair is heavier, almost touching the ground. Their short tail, hairless on its underside, has scent glands.
Barbary sheep are found in northern Africa, from Morocco and the Western Sahara, east to Sudan and Egypt. They were introduced into Europe, including Germany and Italy, and into the United States. They live in arid hill and mountainous areas. Within this rugged, rocky terrain, they select areas with the shade of a cave, a rocky overhang, or a tree, where they go during the hottest part of the day.
These animals live in small groups, usually with one dominant male and a number of females. Males compete for breeding dominance, though males of different ages can live quite well together. An adult male must earn his position heading a group of females by means of intimidation displays, by showing the magnificent mane of hair, and fierce fights where two males stand as far as 15 meters apart, then walk quickly toward each other, lowering their heads and breaking into a run to collide with each other. Living in desert areas, these sheep are usually most active during dawn and dusk, attempting to remain in the shade or shelter during the day when it is hot. When threatened, they usually do not run from a predator but stand extremely still so that they blend in with the surroundings.
Barbary sheep are polygynous breeders, which mean that males mate with more than one female. Although able to breed at any time during the year, the peak for breeding is between September and November. Gestation is for about 160 days, and one or two young are produced. Females can give birth twice a year. Young are well-developed at birth and learn climbing and jumping to match their parents’ skill at a very early age. Newborns are almost able to negotiate the rocky hills as soon as they are born. Although they nurse for around 6 weeks, they start to eat grass at just 1 week old. These sheep generally live in small family groups of one adult male and female, along with their young of various ages. Females are mature at 19 months, though females only 8 months old have produced offspring.
The major threats across the range to Barbary sheep include habitat destruction and poaching, mainly from livestock grazing, collection of wood for fuel, and from desertification and drought. In the Western Sahara, soldiers hunting these animals have been a major threat, and the Barbary sheep might already be extinct in this region. The decline of this species has no doubt been increased by competition with feral camels and livestock.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Barbary sheep population size is approximately 5,000-10,000 individuals. The total population in Morocco is 800 - 2,000 animals and in Algeria there are several thousand individuals. In Niger in the Air and Tenere National Nature Reserve there are 3,500 animals, and outside the reserve, 700 individuals. Overall, currently this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) and its numbers today are decreasing.