The aoudad (Ammotragus lervia), also known as the Barbary sheep, is a species of caprine native to rocky mountains in North Africa. It belongs to the family Bovidae, which includes cattle, antelopes, sheep, and goats. However, despite its common name, the aoudad is more closely related to wild goats than to sheep, according to recent genetic studies.
The aoudad has a sandy-brown coat that darkens with age and blends in with the surrounding rocks. It has a fringe of long, soft hair hanging from its throat and forequarters, which is more pronounced in males. It also has semicircular horns that curve outward, backward, and then inward over the neck. The horns can exceed 76 cm (30 inches) in length and are fairly smooth, with slight wrinkles at the base.
The aoudad lives in small family groups and feeds on grasses, foliage, and other types of plant material. It has a four-chambered stomach that allows it to digest cellulose by regurgitating and chewing the cud. It can go without water for about five days, relying on the moisture from its food and dew. It is mainly active at dawn and dusk, resting during the heat of the day.
The aoudad is considered vulnerable to extinction in its natural range, where only scattered, small populations survive. It faces threats from habitat loss, overhunting, competition with livestock, and predation by humans and other animals. It is probably extinct in Egypt and rare in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Sudan.
However, the aoudad has been introduced to other parts of the world for hunting purposes or as an exotic animal. It has established thriving populations in southeastern Spain, southwestern United States (especially Texas and New Mexico), northern Mexico, Hawaii (Niihau Island), and some parts of Africa. In some of these areas, it competes with native ungulates such as desert bighorn sheep and threatens endemic vegetation.
Conservation Efforts and Challenges
The aoudad is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means that it faces a high risk of extinction in the wild. The main threats to its survival are habitat loss and fragmentation, overhunting for meat and trophies, competition with livestock and other introduced species, and predation by humans and other animals. The aoudad is also affected by climate change, which may alter its habitat and food availability.
Some conservation efforts have been undertaken to protect the aoudad in its native range. These include establishing protected areas, enforcing hunting regulations, raising awareness among local communities, and conducting research and monitoring. However, these efforts are often hampered by lack of funding, political instability, social conflicts, and poor law enforcement.
In contrast, the aoudad is considered an invasive species in some of the areas where it has been introduced. In these areas, it competes with native wildlife for food and water, damages vegetation, and spreads diseases. Some conservationists and landowners advocate for the eradication or control of the aoudad population to protect the native desert bighorn sheep, which is also endangered and has been reintroduced to West Texas after decades of absence. However, this poses ethical and practical challenges, as the aoudad is valued by some hunters and ranchers as a source of income and recreation.
Therefore, the conservation of the aoudad is a complex and controversial issue that requires balancing the interests of different stakeholders and finding sustainable solutions that respect both the ecological and cultural values of this species.