The Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia), also often called the aoudad, is native to North Africa and closely related to the domestic sheep and goat. Humans have a long history with the Barbary sheep, as there is evidence of human-controlled herds from the Holocene epoch. In fact, it may be one of the first livestock animals used in North Africa. Today, however, wild Barbary sheep face stiff competition from domestic livestock and hunters. At present, the Barbary sheep is estimated to be around 5,000–10,000 individuals, across several isolated subspecies spanning North Africa.

Across most of its range, the Barbary sheep is either directly protected by law or occurs in parks and reserves where hunting is restricted or banned. Once thought to be extinct in Egypt, new populations have been discovered in recent years, suggesting that restrictions may be working. Poaching continues to be a problem, however, because enforcement and funds for monitoring the species are lacking. Several programs for reintroduction efforts are in planning or in progress through zoos and universities and may help increase the wild population in the future.

In contrast to struggles in its native range, Barbary sheep have also been established as introduced populations in southern Spain and the western United States. For now, the invasive population is controlled through hunting, and they are not considered a significant agricultural pest.

  1. How long have humans interacted with Barbary sheep?

  2. What evidence is there that hunting restrictions are working, and why does poaching continue to be a problem?

  3. What has been done to control the invasive population of Barbary sheep in the United States?

extinct
Adjective

no longer existing.

Holocene
Noun

having to do with the present geological time period. The Holocene Epoch began at the end of the last glacial period, about 10,000 years ago.

introduced species
Noun

a species that does not naturally occur in an area. Also called alien, exotic, or non-native species.

livestock
noun, plural noun

animals raised for sale and profit.

pest
Noun

harmful or annoying person or thing.

poach
Verb

to hunt, trap, or fish illegally.

reintroduction
Noun

intentional return of an endemic species to its native range after it has been removed or in severe decline.

subspecies
Noun

(subsp.) group of organisms within a single species, often distinguished by geographic isolation.