Algeria’s Wildlife: Barbary Sheep

Featuring thick spiraled horns and short bristly coats, Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia), known locally as Aoudad, are found in four of Algeria’s protected areas – Tassili n’Ajjer, Belezma, Djebel Aissa State Forest and Ahaggar National Park. Although once found in abundance in North African countries, the IUCN conservation status of Barbary sheep is currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ in Algeria. Suggested measures to curb the drop in populations includes establishing larger reserve areas in the north of the country, and the reintroduction of Aoudad into the Djelfa and Tlemcen Hunting Reserves of Algeria, located between Oran and Oujda in northwest Algeria.

Russet brown in color, with short manes and heavy fringes of hair hanging from their throats, both males and females have horns. Males can weigh up to 145kg and stand at more than a meter at shoulder height, with females generally smaller in size and weight. They live in groups of up to six or eight individual animals of different ages. The gestation period is 160 days, with between one and three babies being born. Newborn Barbary sheep are able to walk and make their way across the rugged terrain very soon after birth.

Favoring rocky areas with steep cliffs and sparse tree cover for shade, Barbary sheep are not restricted in their range by a need to remain near a water source. They are able to obtain all the water they need from the food they eat and have been observed ramming trees with their strong horns to dislodge seed pods from acacia trees. Also, they are able to access mountain springs that other mammals can’t reach. This ability to scale steep cliffs and rocky crags is to their advantage when they sense danger, however their main predators are humans, and poaching is a significant threat to their survival, with hunters setting traps and using devious methods and modern weapons to kill these magnificent animals. Habitat destruction and desertification is also a problem for Barbary sheep, as they may have no choice but to gather at mountain pools or areas that have experienced some rainfall in order to feed on new foliage and drink water, making them vulnerable to attack.

Fortunately, authorities are aware of the vulnerability of Barbary sheep and steps are being taken to preserve them. Visitors to Algeria’s national parks may very well see these interesting mammals resting in the shade of trees.