Ammotragus lerviaaoudad

Geographic Range

Barbary sheep, also called auodads, originated in the hills of the Sahara and have inhabited all the major mountains of North Africa. In the late 1800s, Barbary sheep were introduced into Europe, including Germany and Italy. Around 1900, the first Barbary sheep were transferred to the United States to be placed in zoos. Surplus zoo stock was sold to private parties who eventually released some to the wild in New Mexico in 1950 and in Texas in 1957. This has allowed a wild population to develop in the southwestern United States (Gray & Simpson, 1980).


Ammotragus lervia is endemic to the mountains of Northern Africa. It has also survived in the mountains and canyons of the dry southwestern United States. Barbary sheep live in the desert mountains from sea level up to the edge of the snows.

Barbary sheep are also well adapted to a dry climate. They are able to survive long periods of time without fresh water intake by using metabolic water (Gray & Simpson, 1980; The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition, 1994; Schaller, 1977).

Physical Description

Ammotragus lervia is a relatively large sheep. The main pelage of the Barbary sheep is brown; however, the chin, throat, chest, and insides of the front limbs are covered with long, white hair. This white hair is called the ventral mane and appears as if the sheep had a beard. Sexual dimorphism is evident. Males can be up to 145 kg, while females are much smaller, the largest are up to 65 kg. Both males and females have horns that curve outward, backward, and point inward toward the neck. Females' horns are smaller, but have the same shape (Gray & Simpson, 1980; The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition, 1994). ("The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition", 1994; Gray and Simpson, 20 November 1980)

  • Range mass
    65 to 145 kg
    143.17 to 319.38 lb


During estrus, females lick the sides of the prospective mate. The animals may touch muzzles. The male mounts the female and achieves copulation. Males defend groups of females from other males. ("The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition", 1994; Gray and Simpson, 20 November 1980)

Breeding usually occurs from September through November, but the timing can vary. Gestation lasts about 160 days, so most lambs are born between March and May. However, births have been seen as late as November. Most births produce a single offspring, but twins are born one out of every six or seven births. ("The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition", 1994; Gray and Simpson, 20 November 1980)

The timing of sexual maturity varies among males. Sperm were found in one male at eleven months; however, this is probably not the norm. Females are considered sexually mature at 19 months; however, females as young as 8 months of age have produced offspring. ("The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition", 1994; Gray and Simpson, 20 November 1980)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from September to November.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    5.17 to 5.5 months
  • Average gestation period
    5.33 months
  • Range weaning age
    4 (low) months
  • Average weaning age
    4 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    19 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    335 days
  • Parental Investment
  • extended period of juvenile learning



A dominance hierarchy has been observed in zoo populations of Barbary sheep. The social hierarchy is "one of linear descent through males, females, and juveniles." Males are the dominant sex, mainly because of the tremendous size difference. In groups, however, a dominant female always leaders. Dominance among juveniles is determined by the strength of the pair bond with their mothers. As the bond is broken, juveniles gain a sense of dominance among their peers. (Gray and Simpson, 20 November 1980; Schaller, 1977)

Barbary sheep have a very distinct threat posture used in intraspecific conflicts. They direct their horns toward the animal with which they are in conflict. Aggressive behavior is also shown by two other acts. One is the head-on charge, when two males charge into each other making contact with their horns. The other type of aggressive behavior is more similar to wrestling. The males butt their heads or hook their horns and then twist and make gouging movements. Females have been seen to fight, but they rarely perform the head-on charge. Unlike many of their relatives, Barbary sheep do not kick (Gray & Simpson, 1980; Schaller, 1977). (Gray and Simpson, 20 November 1980; Schaller, 1977)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Barbary sheep are herbivorous, feeding on a variety of vegetation such as grass, forbs, and shrubs. Seasonal variation plays a role in determining their diet. In the winter, grass makes up the majority of food intake, while shrubs are the more common food the rest of the year (The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition, 1994). ("The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition", 1994)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In the United States, Barbary sheep are commercially bred to be used for sport hunting. Nomads of the Sahara depend on Barbary sheep for meat, hide, hair, sinews, and horns (Gray & Simpson, 1980). (Gray and Simpson, 20 November 1980)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

It is currently unknown as to whether the Barbary sheep will become a pest like many other introduced species. It has been suggested that Barbary sheep would compete directly with mule deer for food. They might also affect the attempt at reintroduction of bighorn sheep. These two species may not survive in the same environment because of direct competition for food and other resources. Barbary sheep have been found feeding on winter wheat crops in Texas (Mammals of Texas - Online Edition, 1994). ("The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition", 1994)

Conservation Status

Commercially grown and wild populations of Barbary sheep are legally hunted in New Mexico and Texas (Gray & Simpson, 1980). (Gray and Simpson, 20 November 1980)

Other Comments

A viable female offspring was produced when a female domestic goat was mated with a male Barbary sheep. This was confirmed by a backcross with a male Barbary sheep (Gray & Simpson, 1980; The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition, 1994).


Matthew Steinway (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


1994. "The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition" (On-line). Accessed November 21, 1999 at

Gray, G., C. Simpson. 20 November 1980. Ammotragus lervia. Mammalian Species, 144: 1-7.

Schaller, G. 1977. Mountain Monarchs. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.