Urial Sheep

Local name: Urial (Punjab) Gad (Baluchistan) Shapu (Northern Areas)

3 Subspecies:

  • Ovis. vignei. cycloceros (Afghan Urial)
  • Ovis. vignei. punjabiensis (Punjab Urial)
  • Ovis. vignei. vignei (Ladakh Urial)

Description and Biology:

Size:Shoulder Height: 76.15-91.5cm / 30-36in.

Horn Lenght: 63.5-105.5cm / 25-41.5in.

Description: Similar to the Marco Polo Sheep in general body proportions and colouring but averaging considerably smaller in size with shorter, less massive horns. The face is generally greyish, the long slender legs and belly are creamy-white and the body fur is a reddis-grey colour. There is no extensive white area in the caudal region. The tail is always the same color as teh dorsal hair and lacks any longer hair or terminal tuft. The sub-orbital glands are deep and conspicuous often exurding a viscous substance which mats the hair. The iris is pale yellowich-grey with the retina contracting to a horizontal slot.

Adult rams develop a conspicuous chest ruff of long straight coarse hairs which starts at the angle of the jaws and termintes abruptly between the forelegs. This ruff is predominantly white in the throat region and black as it extends down to the sternum. In summer moult this ruff is much shorter but still conspicuous. Females have slender upward curving horns about 12.7cm(5in) long. The horns in mature of mature rams are comparatively slender and angular when contrasted with other wild sheep species but they describe a very symmetrical arc when viewed from the side and curve out widely from the body, so that it is a strinking looking animal especially if encountered in the first rays of the morning sun, when its coat glows an almost pinkish-red color and the black chest-ruff stands out in sharp contrast. Older rams also develop traces of a greyish-white saddle mark in the winter coat.

O.vignei.vignei body fur tends to be more greyish in winter and less red. The chest ruff is comparatively short with black hairs predominating. The horns turn markedly inwards at their tips and often the wrinkles or corrugations are rather shallow and indistinct. O.vignei.cycloceros tends to have a longer, more luxuriantly developed neck ruff. The body fur is reddish and the saddle mark in males is generally very indistinct or lacking. The rams have horns which often develop more than a complete arc when viewed from the side with the tips bending slightly outwards. O.vigei. punjabiensis tend to be smaller and stokier in build compared with the Afghan sub-species and mature rams develop a conspicuous saddle mark in the form of a vertical band of mixed black and white hairs. The Punjab urial often has horns which are more massive at their base than the Afghan population but these never vurve round in more than a complete arc.

Reproduction: Gestation Period: 150-180 days. Young per Birth: Single or occasional twin lambs being born in mid-April to early May in Punjab and often as early as late March in Kirthar Range in Sind. Rut: Rams show no sign of sexual interest or rut until their third autumn when they are two and a half years of age. Sexual Maturity: At 4-5 years. Life Span: 10-11 years. 

Social Behavior: Like the Marco Polo sheep, Urial are gregarious and the biggest herds consist of associations of female with their followers and immature males. Feeding activity is confined to the early morning and evening in the summer months, often commencing well before dawn. During the day they rest, usually under an overhanging bush or rock where they are well concealed. Their sight, hearing ans sense of smell are all acutely developed. They are excessively wary, depending upon early detection of approaching danger and flight for their survival.

Diet: Their preferred food is grasses. They will in time of fodder scarcity, browse the leaves of Acacia Modesta and sometimes pink mucilaginous fruits. (all above information from ” The Mammals of Pakistan” by T.J Roberts).

Habitat and Distribution:

In Baluchistan and Waziristan, the Urial inhabits the gentler slopes of the higher mountain ranges and will occur up to 2,750m(9,000ft). In the Salt range and the Southern North West Frontier Province they are typically associated with lower elevation rounded stony stony hills dotted with wild olive. In the extreme northern and inner Himalayan ranges, the Shapu is associated with barren treeless regions in the lower foothills. They avoid steep precipitous regions in all cases and are usually found in regions with deep erosion gullies which afford them some cover, interspersed with relatively smooth boulder-strewn slopes.In Pakistan, the Afghan urial is found in Baluchistan, North West Frontier (NWFP), and Sindh Provinces. No total population census based on surveys is available. Perhaps 2,500 – 3,000 animals lived in Baluchistan (HESS et al. 1997, after ROBERTS 1985). According to ROBERTS (1997), the population in Baluchistan Province is comprised of small, isolated populations on a number of mountain ranges. The Torghar Hills area in the Toba Kakar Range north of Quetta, Baluchistan appears to be a stronghold. Afghan urial were surveyed in the 950 km2 Torghar Conservation Project (TCP) area in 1994 and 1997. In 1994, JOHNSON (1997b) counted 189 urial in five survey blocks within the TCP area. In 1997, FRISINA et al. (1998) counted 47 urial in three of the same blocks counted in 1994. Extrapolating from these survey areas, JOHNSON (1997b) estimated a total population of 1,173 urial in the 950 km2 TCP area, while FRISINA et al. (1998) estimated a total population of 1,543 urial for the same area three years later. However, these results are not expected to be typical of other mountain ranges in Baluchistan because poaching of urial has been effectively controlled in the TCP area whereas it has not been effectively controlled in other areas. Elsewhere in Baluchistan Province, urial still exist in the Takhatu Hills, in the Gishk hills of northeastern Kalat, in the Zambaza Range south of Fort Sandeman, in the Daman Ghar range north of Muslim Bagh, and around Turbat and Ormara in the Mekran coast hills (ROBERTS 1997).

According to MITCHELL (1988) 1,000 individuals (0,2/km² ) inhabited the Torghar hills of Toba Kakar range (District Zhob). About 150 animals inhabit the Takatu hills near Quetta (AHMAD, unpubl. data), and the situation in the Dureji hills (District Zhob) may be a little better (VIRK 1991). MALIK (1987) estimated a total of 310 – 340 Afghan urial for the whole of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), whereas the NWFP Forest Department (1992) reported a more recent total of only 80 urial, suggesting a severe decline over 5 years. For Sind Province, a census carried out by MIRZA & ASGHAR (1980) estimated a population of 430 urial for Kirthar NP. Based on a census in the Mari-Lusar-Manghtar range and in the Karchat mountains in 1987, BOLLMANN (1998) estimated between 800 and 1,000 urial (0,26 – 0,32/km² ) for the whole of Kirthar NP. According to EDGE & OLSON-EDGE (1987) about 150 to 200 animals live in the Mari-Lusar-Manghtar range, and 100 to 150 in the Karchat mountains (1,7 – 2,5/km² ). A helicopter survey conducted in November 2000 by the staff of the Sindh Wildlife Department, Zoological Survey Department and the University of Melbourne yielded estimates of the total populations of the Afghan Urial in Kirthar National Park at 10,425 ± 675. This population concentrated on rocky sites with characteristic vegetation mainly near Khar and at Dumbar, with small numbers elsewhere. The overall density of Afghan urial in Pakistan is probably much lower than this. (HESS et al. 1997, after AHMAD unpubl. data, EDGE & OLSON-EDGE 1987, MALIK 1987, MIRZA & ASGHAR 1980, Mitchell 1988, NWFP 1992, ROBERTS 1985 and VIRK 1991, Sindh Wildlife Department( Kirthat National Park, Baseline Environmental Study 2000), (BOLLMANN 1998).

According to SARDAR ZULFIQAR ALI BHOOTANI (TAREN 1999, in litt. after pers. comm. to S. Z. A. BHOOTANI), tribal chief and manager of conservation programs at Dureji, the approximate population in Dureji is more than 1,300 animals.

A complete census made in 1976-1977 by MIRZA et al. (1979) estimated the total world population of Punjab urial (O. v. punjabiensis) as 2,157 animals. According to SCHALLER (1977) the population was < 2,000. Estimates by CHAUDHRY (unpubl. data, in 1992) give a minimum total population of 1,550 throughout its whole range. For Punjab, CHAUDHRY et al. (1988) reported a significant decline in urial numbers over only 1 year from 733 in 1986 to 528 in 1987. (HESS et al. 1997, after CHAUDHRY et al. 1988, CHAUDHRY 1992, unpubl. data, MIRZA et al. 1979 and SCHALLER 1977). The private Game Reserve of the Nawab of Kalabagh, about 175 kilometers southwest of Islamabad in Punjab province, possesses the largest population of O. v. punjabiensis estimated to be over 800-850 animals. The total population in the province is estimated to be less than 2,000 animals scattered in four or five small groups. (TAREN 1999, in litt. after pers. comm. to A. A. CHAUDHRY, Director of Punjab Wildlife Department). According to GARSTANG (1999) only four other sub-populations with a total population size estimated at a maximum of 200-250 urial were located outside the Kalabah Region (Kala Bagh Sanctuary of the Jabbah Valley, District Mianwali).

Around 1900 the Ladakh urial used to be a common animal of northern Pakistan. According to SCHALLER (1976) < 1,000 animals were left in Pakistan. HESS (1997 and 1999, in litt.) estimated only 200 – 400 individuals for 1983 -1988. In 1992 a total of 57 urial was estimated by NWFP Forest Department. The total estimated for the Northern Areas for 1993 was 400 – 500 urial (G.TAHIR, Wildlife Wing, Northern Areas Forest Dept., in litt. to G. RASOOL). There are probably < 600 Ladakh urial in total in Pakistan. (HESS et al. 1997, after NWFP 1992, SCHALLER 1976 and G. TAHIR in litt. to G. RASOOL). According to Rasool (1999, in litt.) the previous estimated population has now dropped down to 200 – 300 urial in the whole of the Northern Areas of Pakistan.

All three sub-species of Urial in Pakistan are listed as Endangered in by the IUCN’s Capirane Specialist Group. Unless conservation measures are taken quickly, the Urial will be lost in Pakistan, especially Ladakh and Punjab urial. One of the main reason is that the populations are very small and widely scattered in relatively accesible terrain, and thus can easily be wiped out with no chance for areas to be naturally re-populated through dispersal.(all above information from Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Caprinae “Wild Sheep and Goats and their Relatives”, IUCN/SSC 1997 and “Mammals of Pakistan”, T.J. Roberts)


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