In a resort built on northern mountains, there’s a snowfall outside and you are enjoying the weather with a cup of coffee. Looking from the window, a faint object is seen coming towards you. Suddenly, it stops and now you can see it clearly, “Oh my Gosh! It’s a cute huge sheep”, you exclaim; because of its bulky horns and heavy fur body you were able to see it from so far, you think. Just assume that you are having a ride on the beautiful Pamir Mountains pulled by those animals. What a cool imagination it is! It’s simply awesome indeed!! And the credit goes to the animal which led you to an amazing magical world…… Now suppose for a moment what if this animal is just in your dreams, all the glorious enjoyment of your imaginary scene would end! I’m talking about “Marco Polo sheep”, which is the one and only Argali (Ovis ammon) subspecies present in Pakistan and that is also considered as endangered due to its inclusion in international union for conservation of nature (IUCN) red list-2008.
Wonderful Marco Polo sheep is the most famous sheep in the world as it has the most outstanding horns. Its scientific name is Ovis ammon polii belonging to kingdom Animalia. It was named on its Italian explorer’s name and is one of the most popular victim of trophy hunting .
It is found on Karakorum and Hindu Kush Mountains in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China, while, in Pakistan the sheep inhabits in northern zones. Its local name is Rusch (Wakhi) in Northern Hunza.
It has creamy white belly, long thin legs, heavy muscular neck and a short tail. Adult male sheep have large outward curved horns, on which no. of rings indicate its age. Body hair is rough and short during summer and have thick underwool layer in winter to combat different seasons. In summer, they feed fresh grass while in winter they survive on the wild onions (in northern Hunza) and grassy bunches dug in snow. Their gestation period is 5 & half months and they grow horns 15-20 days after their birth. They are social, diurnal and can live till 13 years.
Since they are the one of the most delicious animal, people spend a lot of money to make world records on hunting this sheep mostly in Tajikistan. Due to illegal shooting and hunting, unawareness among people and hunters, and limited resources it has become “near threatened”.
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and The Northern Areas Forestry Department are doing their efforts to conserve this wild animal. In Pakistan, Khunjerab National Park and Pamir Peace Park are the places to save and look after this sheep. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the PM of Pakistan said about former in 1979 on its establishment day, that “It must become a world famous park”. Unfortunately, today this animal has been limited to only Kilik-Mintika and Qarchanai valleys due to a lot of human disturbances.
Marco Polo sheep has become the most endangered Pakistan’s wild sheep, thus a high level of care and resources are needed to save this unique animal from extinction. Illegal hunting must be banned and for it strong will power and consideration are expected.
Yet we have time, unless, it would be too late!