Ovis ammon


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Ovis ammon
Species Authority: (Linnaeus, 1758)
Common Name/s:
English Argali, Wild Sheep
French Mouflon D'Asie, Mouflon D'Eurasie, Mouflon Vrai
Spanish Muflón Argal
Taxonomic Notes: There is near unanimity of opinion that Ovis ammon is the appropriate Latin binomial for all Argalis. Prior to 1998, some authorities considered the Severtzov Sheep of Uzbekistan to be Urial, but following Bunch et al. (1998), it has generally been included as an Argali. One exception is Mitchell and Frisina (2007), who follow some earlier taxonomists in recognizing a separate species O. polii, under which they put a few additional subspecies (see below on subspecific taxonomy).

Argali live over a vast geographic range, but are separated into more-or-less disjunct populations, some of which are morphologically identifiable. How much (if any) of the taxon’s disjunct distribution is natural and how much the result of anthropogenic influence remains open to date. Similarly, how (and even whether) various populations should be classified subspecifically remains contentious. Wilson and Reeder (2005) and Fedosenko and Blank (2005) recognize nine subspecies: O. a. ammon, O. a. collium, O. a. comosa (= jubata), O. a. darwini, O. a. hodgsoni, O. a. karelini, O. a. nigrimontana, O. a. polii, and O. a. severtzovi. Geist (1991) recognized all of these except collium and severtzovi (which at the time was still considered a urial); he also considered that jubata had precedence over comosa. Shackleton and Lovari (1997) followed Geist’s (1991) classification except for adding collium as a valid subspecies. Within China, some authors have recognized additional subspecies. Wang (2002) recognized O. a. littledalei, adametzi, and sairensis (all within the range occupied by karelini or collium by the above authorities), and dalailamae (within the range occupied by hodgsoni, above) in addition to ammon and darwini (but did not recognize O. a. jubata). Yu (2001) recognized dalailamae as distinct from hodgsoni, but did not recognize the subdivisions within karelini or collium (and also did not recognize jubata). Mitchell and Frisina (2007) recognized ammon, darwini, jubata, dalailamae, and hodgsoni (as well as karelini, nigrimontana, and severtzovi under O. polii). Tserenbataa et al. (2004), based on mtDNA analysis, questioned the validity of separating O. a. ammon and darwini within Mongolian populations. There is uncertainty regarding the subspecific status of Argali in Gansu and adjacent Inner Mongolia; there are also differing opinions regarding the morphometric and/or geographic separation between polii and karelini. It may well be that future genetic work, similarly to Tserenbataa et al. (2004) and Wu et al. (2003) will suggest that clinal, rather than threshold variation characterizes many argali populations. Clearly, more research is required to clarify the taxonomy of the species.

Because subspecific taxonomy remains unresolved, most subspecies that are recognized cross international borders, and the species occurs in many countries with differing management regimes, this account treats Ovis ammon by country (and, where appropriate, by population) rather than by subspecies.

Subspecies found in Mongolia: Recent genetic studies (Tserenbataa 2003, Tserenbataa et al. 2004) suggest that all Argali in Mongolia represent a single subspecies. Two subspecies were formerly recognized, Altai Argali O. a. ammon and Gobi Argali or Mongolian Argali O. a. darwini.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened     ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Assessor/s: Harris, R.B. & Reading, R.
Reviewer/s: Harris, R. & Festa-Bianchet, M. (Caprinae Red List Authority)
Contributor/s: Subbotin, A. & Mukhina-Kreuzberg, E.
Listed as Near Threatened because this species is believed to be in significant decline (but probably at a rate of less than 30% over three generations, taken at 24 years) due to poaching and competition with livestock, making the species close to qualifying for Vulnerable under criterion A2de..
1996 Vulnerable
1988 Indeterminate (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species is found in northeastern Afghanistan, China (Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, possibly western Sichuan, Tibet, and Xinjiang), northern India (Ladakh, Sikkim, and Spiti), eastern Kazakhstan, eastern Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, northern Nepal (near the Chinese border), extreme northern Pakistan, Russia (Tuvan and Altai Republics in the Altai Mountains), eastern Uzbekistan, and eastern Tajikistan (Fedosenko and Blank 2005). There are no recent records of argali occurrence in Bhutan (Tschewang Wangchuck pers. comm., 2008).

Argali were historically present in much of the Afghan Pamirs of the Wakhan district (Habibi 1977, Petocz 1973, Petocz et al. 1978), between the Panj (Amu Darya) and Wakhan Rivers, but were not known from elsewhere in Afghanistan during recent times. They currently occupy the western section of the Big Pamirs, most of the Little Pamirs, and are often found in the Wakhjir Valley as well (Harris and Winnie 2008, Schaller and Kang 2008). Their status in the eastern portion of the Big Pamir, where they were documented by Petocz (1978) in the early 1970s remains uncertain. They are occasionally reported from elsewhere within the Wakhan Corridor. These animals are considered to be O. a. polii.

Argali are distributed in most mountain ranges of Xinjiang (Yu et al. 1999), including the Altai Shan, Arjin Shan, Kara-Kunlun Shan, Pamirs, and Tian Shan and associated ranges. Some authorities consider all these argali except those in the Pamirs to be O. a. karelini; others sub-divide these into other subspecies. Within the ranges of the Tibetan Plateau, argali are distributed discontinuously and irregularly (Liu and Yin 1993, Schaller 1998, Schaller et al. 2007, Harris 2007). Although present in ranges from the Himalaya to the Qilian Shan in Gansu, argali on the Tibetan Plateau appear to be rare where temperatures are exceedingly low, winter snows deep, and/or precipitation amounts too low to support grass (Harris 2007). However, relatively healthy populations occur in the Qilian and Kunlun Mountains of Gansu and Qinghai (although from written accounts, argali are rare in the drier, western portions of the Kunlun Shan [Feng 1990, G. Schaller, unpublished data, 2001]). Chinese sources report the species as present in extreme western Sichuan (Wang 2002) but recent documentation of this is weak. Most authors consider argali on the Tibetan Plateau (including the Qilian Shan in Gansu) O. a. hodgsoni, although some Chinese authors consider O. a. hodgsoni limited to southern Tibet, and consider argali north of that to be O. a. dalailamae. Argali are patchily distributed in Inner Mongolia (Bu et al. 1998). They are historically known from parts of Shaanxi and Ningxia Provinces (in the Helan Shan, which forms Ningxia’s western border with Inner Mongolia), but recent records suggest that they no longer occurs in either of these provinces (Liu Zhensheng, Gong Minghao pers. comm., 2008). These animals are variously described as O. a. darwini or O. a. jubata.

Within India, argali are restricted to the eastern plateau of Ladakh, a nearby area in Spiti (Himachal Pradesh), and, separately, in northern Sikkim adjacent to Tibet (Fox and Johnsingh 1997, Bhatnagar 2003, Ul-Haq 2003, Namgail et al. 2004). Indian biologists consider these animals O. a. hodgsoni.

In Kazakstan, argali (usually considered O.a. collium) are present in the Kazakhshiy and Melkosopoachnik regions, north of Lake Balkash, in the northeastern part of the country. Small populations are also present in the Kara-Tau Mountains (O. a. nigrimontana, although Shakula 2000 raised doubts about the validity of this subspecies), and the ranges of the West Tian Shan, both north and west of Almaty (Weinberg et al. 1997). O. severtzovi historically inhabited the Beltau Mountains and eastern portions of the Aktau range (Ishunin 1970), but the subspecies is believed to be extirpated from Kazakhstan (N. Beshko pers. comm.).

In Kyrgyzstan, argali are present along the eastern quarter of the country toward the Chinese border from Kazakhstan in the north to Tajikistan in the south, as well as along portions of the eastern Tian Shan toward the Uzbek border (Fedosenko and Blank 2005). Animals in southern southeastern Kyrgyzstan are usually considered O. a. polii; some authorities consider those in northern Kyrgyzstan O. a. karelini, but geographic and morphological separation remains unclear.

Argali are distributed widely, but patchily across a large portion of Mongolia. Historically, argali occurred in disjunct populations across all, but eastern Mongolia, in areas with rolling hills, mountains, rocky outcrops, canyons, and plateaus (Amgalanbaatar and Reading 2000, 2003, Reading et al. 2001). Argali appear to be expanding their distribution in eastern Mongolia, but contracting and becoming even more fragmented in western Mongolia (Mallon et al. 1997, Amgalanbaatar and Reading 2000, Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002a, 2002b, Clark et al. 2006). Large areas formerly occupied by argali in western Mongolia now lack the species. The species current distribution includes portions of the Altai, Trans-Alai, Gobi-Altai, Khangai, Khentie, and Khovsgol Mountain ranges, as well as isolated areas in the Gobi Desert (Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002b, Clark et al. 2006). More specifically, isolated populations exist in the mountains of the Mongolian Altai and Gobi Altai Mountains, primarily the western and southern Khangai Mountains, near the source of the Arsain River in the Khovsgol Mountains, and the southernmost Khentii Mountains. Other populations persist patchily in the Dzungarian Gobi Great Gobi, Trans-Altai Gobi, Alashan Gobi, Middle Gobi, and eastern Gobi (Bannikov 1954, Dulamtseren 1970, Sokolov and Orlov 1980, Reading et al. 1997, 2001, Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002a, 2002b, Fedosenko and Blank 2005, Clark et al. 2006)).

Argali (usually considered O. a. hodgsoni) are known from the Damodar Kunda area of Mustang District, bordering Tibet (Shrestha et al. 2005). They may also persist in the Dolpo region, north of the Dhualagiri Range (Wegge and Oli 1997).

Argali in Pakistan are known only from Khunjerab National Park (KNP) and environs, including the Khunerab, Kilik, and Mintaka passes with China (Hess et al. 1997, Khan and Khan, n.d.). It is unknown whether argali (considered O. a. polii) use the mountains separating these areas from Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to the west.

Argali were formerly found in Zabaikal, Kuray, and the South-Chuya ranges and the Ukok plateau (Weinberg et al. 1997). More recently, they are known only from Tuva and Altai Republics (Weinberg et al. 1997, Paltsyn 2001, Maroney 2004). Russian authorities considered these O. a. ammon.

Argali are present through most of the eastern third of Tajikistan (Luschekina 1994, Weinberg et al. 1997, Schaller and Kang 2008), from the border with Xinjiang, China west to Langar in the south and Sarez Lake in the north. Authors agree that all argali in Tajikistan are O. a. polii.

O. ammon severtzovi was previously distributed over a wide area of Uzbekistan from the northeastern part of the Pamiro-Alaya mountain range rhought the low mountains of the Kyzylkum Desert. Historically, it occupied the mountains of Nuratau, Aktau, Koratau, Malguzar east of Turkenstanski in Pistalitau, Tamdytau, Bukantua, Kuldjuktau, and other low ranges in the Kyzylkum Desert (Ishunin 1970, N. Beshko pers. comm.). Today, the majority of animals surviving are restricted to the higher mountains of Nuratau, primarily with the Nuratinski Strictly Protected Area, north of Samarkand (Uzbekistan). Very small populations persist in the western Aktau, Tamdytau, and Malguzar Ranges (N. Beshko pers. commun.).
Afghanistan; China; India; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Mongolia; Nepal; Pakistan; Russian Federation; Tajikistan; Uzbekistan
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Afghanistan
There is no comprehensive population estimate for argali in Afghanistan. In the early 1970s, Petocz et al. (1978) accounted for approximately 1,260 argali in the Pamirs (including both Big and Little Pamir segments), from which they estimated a total abundance of about 2,500. During their survey in autumn 2004 (primarily of the Little Pamir), Schaller and Kang (2008) tallied 624 argali (87% of which were in the Little Pamir), and speculated that the total number in the Wakhan might be 1,000. Some of the argali tallied in the Little Pamir may periodically cross into Tajikistan, and thus possibly be counted within surveys there. Harris and Winnie (2008) estimated that they observed 120-210 individual argali in the western segment of the Big Pamir in November-December 2007. Eight-five individuals (all males) had been encountered by B. Habib in the Wakhjir Valley near the Chinese border in July of 2007, which likely were not part of the Big Pamir counts. Efforts to refine a population estimate for Big Pamir argali are currently underway, using DNA microsatellites extracted from fecal samples.

Wang et al. (1997) put forward estimates of 29,000-36,000 for O. a. hodgsoni alone (in Tibet, Qinghai, and southeastern Xinjiang; although Wang [1998] subsequently wrote that such an estimate was probably a “significant overestimate”), with an additional 2,100-2,800 O. a. darwini (in Inner Mongolia), 600-700 O. a. jubata (in Inner Mongolia), 8,000-11,000 O. a. karelini (in the Tian Shan), 2,000-3,000 O. a. polii (in the Pamirs), and some additional O. a. ammon (in northern Xinjiang near the Mongolia border). This would suggest an estimate during the early 1990s of 41,700-53,500 argali in China. Later, as part of a nationwide attempt to generate numerical estimates for wildlife, Yu estimated the total number of argali in China to be between 23,298 and 31,910 (Yu Yuqun, Northwest Institute of Endangered Species, Xian, personal communication, 2004). Both of these estimates were extrapolations based on density estimates from limited areas, and neither was associated with sufficient explanation to asses their accuracy. Given the tendency for density estimates to be taken from areas known to have the densest concentrations and to use models that are usually biased high (Harris and Burnham 2001), these estimates are more likely to be biased high than low.

On the Tibetan plateau, Schaller (1998) considered that “…the total number of Tibetan argalis could be as low as 7,000”. For the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Liu and Yin (1993) estimated 5,000 argali. For Gansu, in a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service dated May 17, 1991, Wang Zhangyun of China’s CITES Management Office suggested that there were as many as 20,000 argali in this province alone. In Qinghai, Zheng (2003) estimated a total population for Qinghai of 3,588. Earlier, Zheng and Zhu (1990) had estimated a population size of 665 (with a 95% confidence interval of 245) within selected study sites totaling approximately 600 km² of the Bu’erhanbuda Shan portion of the Kunlun Shan (based on 18 groups observed).

There are at least four written estimates of argali abundance in the Hashiha’er International Hunting Area of Gansu encompassing the northern slopes of the Danghenan Shan and the nearby Yemanan Shan in Subei County, Gansu. A provincial survey from 1990 estimated 1,452 argali (with unspecified confidence limits of 831-2,073; Gao Jun, Gansu Wildlife Protection Bureau, Lanzhou, unpublished data), an internal report of unclear origin estimated 1,525 (with confidence limits of 990—2,060; Zhao Lianghong, Subei International Hunting Area, unpublished data), Liu et al. (2000) cited a mean density figure of 0.482 (which is higher than either of the 2 density estimates underlying the above abundance estimates, and which equates to an abundance estimate of 4,479), and Liu (2001) estimated a population of 3,294 within Yanchiwan township (which roughly equates with the Hashiha’er hunting area boundary). All of these estimates relied on some variation of ground-based distance sampling, but in no case were sampling methods described, although Liu (2001) revealed that his density estimate was based on a sample size of 6, and the total number of animals observed was 60. A brief survey in April 1999 suggested that all these estimates were biased high (R. Harris, unpublished data). In an adjacent hunting area in Aksai county, Gansu, the 1990 provincial population estimate was 1,545 (with confidence limits of 1,127—1,963; Gao Jun, unpublished data), and the density estimate from Liu et al. (2000) suggested a population size of 3,879. In contrast, ~ 1-month-long surveys in both 2000 and 2003 with KIHA staff, focusing on what was believed to be the best argali habitat, documented 204-255 individual argali, and although some were no doubt missed, Harris et al. (2005) concluded that it was highly unlikely that the total population exceeded 500.

In Xinjiang, no estimates are available specifically for the Tian Shan or Altai Mountains (although estimates for the former are in the thousands, for the latter in the hundreds). In Taxkorgan County where Xinjiang shares the Pamir range with Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Schaller et al. (1987) documented only 87 argali and believed the population to be rather small. However, a later survey (Schaller and Kang 2008) yielded documentation of 851 argali in the Taxkorgan Nature Reserve and 1,448 argali north of it. In a separate survey during the same year (2005), Gong et al. (2007) surveyed selected drainages within Taxkorgan Nature Reserve, tallying 433 argali. Based on the area sampled and assumptions about suitable habitat, they extrapolated an estimate of 1,500-1,700 argali within the Reserve. No population estimates are available for argali in Inner Mongolia, but most populations appear to be isolated and small (Wang and Schaller 1996, Bu et al. 1998, Wang 1998).

Due to the lacking of consistent trend monitoring, population trends in China are largely unknown. A population monitored periodically over 12 years in Yeniugou, in the Kunlun Mountains south of Golmud in Qinghai apparently declined (Harris and Loggers 2004); no marked difference in abundance was noted in a population monitored in Aksai, Qilian Mountains in Gansu (Harris et al. 2005).

Argali are very rare in Sikkim (Sharma and Lachungpa 2003), and only occasionally move into the Spiti area of Himachal Pradesh from adjacent Ladakh (Pandey 2003). Fox and Johnsingh (1997) estimated that about 200 remained in Ladahk. Namgail (2004) counted 127 in a ~500 km² study area in the Gya-Miru Wildlife Sanctuary and adjacent Tsokar Basin in spring 2003. Adding unpublished recent reports of an additional 120-140 argali elsewhere in Ladakh, he concluded that there might be slightly more than 200 argali in the Ladakh. Namgail (2004) cautioned against interpreting these later numbers as an increase of the 200 estimated earlier by Fox and Johnsingh (1997).

Sources are currently unavailable from which an estimate of the total abundance of argali in Kazakhstan might be inferred. Weinberg et al. (1997) estimated 8,000 to 10,000 in the northeastern distribution (of the putative subspecies O. a. collium), i.e., the Karaganda area, with perhaps 250 in the Kara Tau Mountains, and an unknown number in the West Tian Shan. Fedosenko (1999b) reported that Smirnov (1965, not seen) had estimated 16,000 argali in Karaganda during the early 1960s, but that later estimates in the 1970s and 1980s had put the number at 7,000 or even 5,000. A helicopter survey in November 1991 resulted in an estimate of 9,717 Karaganda argali, but whether this was a direct count or an extrapolation was not made clear by Fedosenko (1999b). Fedosenko (1999b) quotes R. Baidavletov as assuming a total abundance of 13,500 in the Karaganda area, including 6,500 in Karaganda oblast, 2,100 in Semipalatinsk oblast, 4,300 and the remainder in other oblasts as of the early 1990s. Magomedov et al. (2003) report tallying 449 individuals within a survey area of 1,544 km² in the upper course of the Baralbas River of Karaganda and Semipalatnisk, but declined to extrapolate this figure to areas not surveyed. Recent surveys in Kazakhstan revealed a disappointing picture of argali status (A. Subbotin pers. comm., 2008). Uncontrolled killing by those who carry firearms appeard to be common; local militia and customs officials had come to areas inhabited by argali and killed dozens with gun-machines. In the Kara-Tau Mountains, Shakula (2000) believed that the population could have been as low as 100 animals.

There is little consensus regarding the abundance of argali in Kyrgyzstan. Luschekina (1994) counted 565 individuals in the western part of the Kokshalatau range in summer 1993. Based on these counts plus older, unpublished counts, she extrapolated an estimate of 6,000 argali in northeastern Kyrgyzstan. Magomedov et al. (2003) surveyed 190 km of transects in a similar area during spring 2002, tallying 717 argali. Weinberg et al. (1997) reported “no more than 2,000” argali in Tian Shan (which may have included parts of Kazakhstan), and estimates of from 9,900 to 16,000 in the Pamir and Tian Shan of putative O.a. polii subspecies (which included parts of Tajikistan). Weinberg et al. (1997) believed argali in both the Tian Shan and Pamirs were declining. According to Fedosenko (1999b), aerial surveys conducted during winters 1990 and 1991 tallied 5,493 argali, and estimated a total population of approximately 8,000 in the early 1990s. Fedosenko and Blank (2005) reported estimates of argali in Kygzystan as 10,000-12,000 in the Pamir and 5,000 in the Tian Shan, but without citing sources or methods. Based on extrapolations from counts in Aksai, Arpa-Naryn, Dzhety-Oguz, and Issyk-Kul oblasts, Kyrgyz government surveys have estimated approximately 15,900 argali in 2006, slightly lower than in previous years, and down from an estimated 26,000 in 2003.

No rigorous population estimates exist for Mongolia nation-wide. The Mongolian Academy of Sciences has conducted a few country-wide surveys; however, the methods used do not permit accurate population estimation. Alternatively, they do provide some measure of population trends because similar methods were used. The methods involved several teams of biologists driving and hiking in areas known to at least historically contain populations of argali sheep and discussions with local people and local government officials in these areas. These surveys yielded round number estimates (lacking measures of precision) of 40,000 in 1970, 50,000 in 1975, 60,000 in 1985, and between 13,000-15,000 in 2001 (Dulamtseren 1970, Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002b, Zahler et al. 2004, Clark et al. 2006, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, unpubl. Data). Reading et al. 1997 suggested that no more than 20,000 argali inhabited Mongolia in 1994. The 2001 Academy of Sciences survey suggested that approximately 10,000 – 12,000 argali inhabited the Gobi Region of Mongolia (roughly corresponding to the range of O. a. darwini) and 3,000 – 5,000 argali inhabited the Altai Region (roughly the range of O. a. ammon in Mongolia). It is difficult to gauge the accuracy of these figures given the methods and data provided in government reports, but on regional distribution data, it does appear that argali continue to decline in western and central Mongolia, while populations in eastern Mongolia appear to be expanding. Argali populations in southern Mongolia appear to be relatively stable. Probably no more than a few thousand Altai argali (O. a. ammon) persist in Mongolia, while several thousand Gobi argali (the putative O. a. darwini) inhabit a growing range in the south and east.

No estimates of the number of argali in Nepal exist; it is likely to be a small number (Shrestha et al 2005).

Animals using the Khunjerab area of Pakistan may also use the Chinese side; the number of animals occurring in Pakistan remains unknown, but is likely to be small, possibly less than 100 (Hess et al. 1997). In 2002 or 2003, Khan and Khan (n.d.) report observing 34 argali. These authors also provide qualitative evidence of a general decline in argali abundance in the area.

In the mid-1990s, Weinberg et al. (1997) estimated that between 450-700 argali occurred in the Altai Mountains of southern Russia, distributed among numerous subpopulations none of which exceed 50 animals. Paltsyn (2001) reports counts of 80-85 argali within Altaisky Zapovednik (speculating that 100-110 individuals may have existed), 150-160 in headwaters of rivers of Sailugem Ridge (south of the Zapovednik, near the Mongolian border), and 40-45 individuals along the slopes of Chikhachev’s Ridge in the Tuvan Republic.

Numerous figures have been put forward for the total number of argali in Tajikistan; all suffer from methodological problems of one sort or another. Luschekina (1994) reported that helicopter surveys conducted in 1991 tallied 9,415 animals, with the estimated total in Tajikistan being 9,900-10,300. Density was highest in the eastern-most section, near the border with China where “engineering” works limited human access. Fedosenko (1999a), based on local information in the Saluistyk River area, believed this estimate to be slightly low, asserting that population size in the early 1990s was 11,500-12,000. Based on poaching records and political events within Tajikistan at the time, Fedosenko (1999a) hypothesized a decline to about 9,500-10,000 during the mid-1990s. Fedosenko (1999a) reported tallying 4,948 argali in southeastern portions of Tajikistan in 1999 where he had tallied only 1,242 in 1995, and concluded that the population in Tajikistan had increased to 13,000-14,000. Other estimates during the 1990s by K. Kasirov (quoted by Schaller 2003) were in the 8,000-9,000 range. Magomedov et al. (2002, 2003) surveyed 900 km of transects during late February and early March 2002 in southeastern Tajikistan, estimating that they tallied 5,951 individual argali. Extrapolations from these counts (based on poorly documented assumptions) yielded an estimate of 14,500 argali within southern and eastern study areas, and 39,900 for all of Tajikistan (their surveys evidently took place where Luschekina [1994] and Fedosenko [1999a] had earlier postulated this highest densities in Tajikistan). Schaller and Kang (2008) tallied 1,528 argali in summer 2003 within selected census blocks totaling 1,977 km² (and in winter 2005, counted 2,200 animals within their South Alichur block in Murgab). Schaller and Kang (2008) declined to project an estimate for all of Tajikistan, but believed that the 13,000-14,000 estimated by Fedosenko (1999a) was “of the correct order of magnitude”.

Within Nuratinski Strictly Protected Area (SPA) of the Nuratau Mountains, about 1,200-1,300 argali survive. Outside of the protected area the Nuratau Mountains supports about 250-300 argali, of which ~150-200 occur in western Nuratau and 100 individuals occur in eastern Nuratau and the Koitash Range. Under 100 argali remain in the Tamdytau and Aktau Ranges. A few individuals may persist in the Malguzar Range near the Zaaminsk SPA. Therefore, a total of under 1,800 Severtzov’s argali persist in Uzbekistan, of which 90% occur in the Naratau Range (N. Beshko pers. commun.).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Argali inhabit mountains, steppe valleys and rocky outcrops (Reading et al., 1997; Schaller 1998; Amgalanbaatar and Reading, 2000; Harris 2007); they also occur in open desert habitats at the south-eastern end of its range (Reading et al., 2003; Tserenbataa et al., 2004; Reading et al., 2005). Argali are sensitive to deep snow, particularly if forage is limiting; often migrating from high mountain habitats during winter, but are present all year round at lower elevations in the Gobi desert (Reading et al., 2005). Most argali live on alpine grasslands between 3,000-5,500 m, often descending lower in winter (particularly if snow accumulates to more than a few cm). In some areas, (e.g., Gobi desert of southern Mongolia, Karaganda area of Kazakhstan), they live in lower elevation, semi-arid areas. They generally avoid forested areas (except in Kazakhstan, where they are presumed to occupy forests because of displacement from preferred habitats, Fedonsenko and Blank 2005). They prefer to occupy open areas with a gentle slope; females generally occupy steeper (cliff) terrain following lambing. Argali feed on grasses, sedges, and some herbs and lichens, and they regularly drink from open springs and rivers. Where sympatric with blue sheep they are more likely to occur in grass-dominated communities compared to the sedge-dominated communities occupied by blue sheep. Argali are gregarious and live in groups from 2-150 individuals. Wolves (Canis lupus) are their primary natural predator. Gestation is about 160 days, and females give birth to one offspring (twins are occasionally reported in the literature, but documentation is poor). Mothers separate from the herd to give birth and remain alone with her offspring for several days. Females are sexually mature at 2 years, while males may not sexually mature until 5 years. Maximum life-span is 10-13 years (Fedosenko and Blank 2005).
Systems: Terrestrial
List of Habitats:
1 Forest
1.4 Forest - Temperate
3 Shrubland
3.4 Shrubland - Temperate
4 Grassland
4.4 Grassland - Temperate
6 Rocky areas (eg. inland cliffs, mountain peaks)
8 Desert
8.3 Desert - Cold

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The main threats are over-hunting and poaching (for meat); competition, displacement and possibly disease transmission by domestic livestock; and habitat loss. In general, argali appear to be extremely intolerant of human disturbance (Fedosenko 1999, Namgail 2004, Maroney 2006, Namgail et al. 2007, Harris 2007, Schaller and Kang 2008.) These threats appear to vary little among argali populations, even though habitats vary.

In Afghanistan, poaching is generally considered to be a continuing threat to argali, the presidential ban on hunting notwithstanding. Weapons are not uncommon in Afghanistan.

In China, poaching has been considered to be a substantial threat (Wang et al. 1997, Schaller 1998). In the mid-1990s however, a nationwide effort to confiscate guns from pastoralists substantially reduced the weaponry available for poaching. This, together with continued efforts to publicize the national law prohibiting killing protected species, appears to have reduced poaching during the last decade or so. At the same time however, efforts to regularize and sedentarize pastoralists generally increased habitat conflicts, because pastoralists typically intensified their use of productive grasslands preferred by argali, thus displacing them (Harris 2007).

Some of the strongest data suggesting interference competition from livestock as a limiting factor for argali comes from Ladakh, India, where Namgail et al. (2007) documented a group of argali shifting their habitat preference toward escape terrain and away from preferred foraging areas when livestock were present.

As elsewhere, livestock grazing and poaching were considered the principal limiting factors to argali in Kazakhstan by Fedosenko (1999b). There is general consensus that habitat conditions for argali improved after Kyrgyzstan’s independence in 1991, due to the collapse of the state-supported livestock sector and consequent reduction in grazing pressure in the Tian Shan and Pamirs (Farrington 2005). It is unclear whether relatively low livestock density near the Chinese border will continue. Poaching and competition with livestock are also considered threats in Kyrgyzstan (Weinberg et al. 1997). After independence in 1991, the number of domestic sheep herded into argali habitat declined dramatically, which likely had a beneficial effect. However, since 2000 there have been informal reports that livestock numbers have again risen.

The main threat facing argali in Mongolia is poaching for subsistence (meat) and increasingly for their horns, which are increasingly being used as substitute horn in traditional Chinese medicine (Mallon et al. 1997, Reading et al. 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, Amgalanbaatar 2002b). Also important are the impacts from local, nomadic pastoralists who displace argali, whose livestock feed on the same forage as argali, and whose dogs chase and even kill argali (Mallon et al. 1997, Reading et al. 1997, 1998, 2003, 2005, Wingard 2005, Amgalanbaatar et al. 2006). More minor and localized threats include unsustainable trophy hunting (Amgalanbaatar 2002a, Zahler et al. 2004, Wingard and Zahler 2006) and habitat loss resulting from rapidly increasing resource extraction (i.e., mining) (Reading et al. 1998, 1999, 2001, 2005). Subsistence poaching by miners general represents a greater threat than actual mining activities, but this may change as the number of mines continues to grow rapidly. These threats remain important due to poor or non-existence law enforcement throughout most of the range of the species in Mongolia. Very little money from trophy hunting currently supports conservation activities in Mongolia (Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002a, Wingard and Zahler 2006).

In Pakistan, in addition to disturbance from livestock (grazing in Khunjerab remains legal; Knudsen 1999, Khan and Khan, n. d.), increased access to the area through the Karakoram Highway is believed to have increase poaching pressure (Hess et al. 1997).

Unlike in Mongolia, domestic livestock herds in the Russian Altai were reported has having declined during the 1990s (Paltsyn 2001), providing a potential opportunity for expansion of the protected area network in the Altai-Sayan area.

In Uzbekistan, poaching represents the main threat facing Severtzov’s argali, which continues to occur even within protected area (N. Beshko pers. comm.). The second major threat to Severtzov’s argali is a loss of habitat and competition with domestic livestock for forage. Finally, inbreeding and harsh climatic conditions represent threats for the very small, isolated populations in the Aktau, Tamdytau, and Malguzar Mountains (N. Beshko pers. comm.).
List of Threats:
2 Agriculture & aquaculture
2.3 Livestock farming & ranching
2.3.1 Nomadic grazing
2.3.2 Small-holder grazing, ranching or farming
3 Energy production & mining
3.2 Mining & quarrying
5 Biological resource use
5.1 Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals
5.1.1 Intentional use (species is the target)
8 Invasive & other problematic species & genes
8.1 Invasive non-native/alien species
8.1.1 Unspecified species
8.2 Problematic native species
11 Climate change & severe weather
11.2 Droughts
11.3 Temperature extremes

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Argali are included on Appendix II of CITES, excepting the subspecies O. a. nigrimontana and O. a. hodgsonii, which are included on Appendix I. The United States Endangered Species Act lists argali as endangered, except in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, where they are listed as threatened. (Threatened classification allows for importation of trophies from legally taken argali in those countries under specifically-authorized permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Permits for importation of trophies are generally not authorized for taxa listed as Endangered).

A trophy hunting program for argali in the Big Pamir operated from ~ 1966-1978, but was discontinued following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and to date, has not been re-established. Under this program, livestock grazing in high elevation habitats favoured by argali during summer was effectively prohibited, and poaching by local pastoralists reduced. However, domestic livestock grazing was concentrated on argali winter ranges, with the result that the overall effect on argali habitat of the hunting program was unclear (Petocz et al. 1978). All hunting in Afghanistan was banned by order of President Hamid Karzai in 2006. There do not, however, appear to be serious effort so to enforce the ban. In 2009. argali were officially-listed as a Protected Species in Afghanistan, strictly prohibiting all hunting and trading of this species within the country. There are currently no protected areas within the distribution of argali in Afghanistan, although plans exist to establish one or more in the Big and Little Pamir areas. Land management regulations or restrictions in any such future protected areas are not yet known.

Argali are classified as a Category II “key species” under the Chinese National Wildlife Law of 1988. As such, permits to take argali must be obtained from province-level authorities. In practice, only the trophy hunting programs have procured permits to take argali under this legislation (Harris 2007).

Argali occur in a number of Chinese nature reserves. In Xinjiang, they occur in occur in at least six nature reserves in Xinjiang (Du and Zhang 2006), including Arjin Shan, Kalamaili, Source of the 2 Altai Rivers (Altai mountains), West Tian Shan, Hami Shan (Tian Shan range) and Taxkorgan (Pamirs). On the Tibetan Plateau, argali occur in the 247,120 km² Qiangtang Reserve in Tibet and the 83,000 km² Kekexili Reserve in Qinghai, as well as in scattered populations within the Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve in Qinghai (Schaller et al. 2007). In Gansu, argali occur in Yanchiwan Nature Reserve, and may occur in the Qilian Nature Reserve. Nature reserve designation in China does not necessarily preclude habitat conflicts, as grazing, mining, and other activities often take place.

A number of trophy hunting areas have been established with argali as the focal species. Hunting areas in Xinjiang include Baicheng, Bu’erjin, Fuyun, Hami, Hejing, Qiemo, Tacheng, Tashiku’ergan, and Tulufan counties; in Gansu in Aksai and Subei counties (Subei’s consisted of two distinct areas, the Hashiha’er area in the Qilian Mountains and the Mazong Shan area in the Gobi Desert abutting Mongolia). In addition, two hunting areas in Qinghai Province, focusing primarily on blue sheep, have argali populations: Dulan (within separate townships, Balong and Gouli) and Maduo counties. One hunting area in Inner Mongolia (Yabulei) contains argali. Hunting areas in China have generally succeeded in reducing poaching and in generating some local enthusiasm for argali, but have not yet succeeded in treating habitat conflicts (Harris and Pletscher 2002, Harris 2007).

Argali are listed as a threatened species by the Government of India and are fully protected under Jammu and Kashmir’s Wildlife Act of 1978 (Fox and Johnsingh 1997). Poaching appears to have declined in recent years (Namgail 2004), but has evidently not been accompanied by an increase in argali. Little has been done to address the likely deleterious effects of displacement increasing numbers of livestock on argali in Ladakh. Argali are rare but present in Khangchengzonga National Park in Sikkim (Sharma and Lachungpa 2003).

Fedosenko (1999b) considered that some of the hunting concessions in Karaganda oblast protected argali well. Between 1990 and 2000, 75 argali rams were shot in the Karaganda area, and the approximately $900,000 earned was used for scientific studies, according to Fedosenko (1999b). However, Fedosenko (1999b) also believed that trophy hunting was having deleterious effects on breeding behavior and resultant productivity of females, and recommended a reduction in the yearly offtake quota. Trends in habitat conflicts with domestic livestock in Kazakhstan have not been well documented.

A research and conservation plan for argali was approved by the government of the Kyrgyz republic on April 7, 2004 (Krygyz Republic 2004), but it is unclear if it has proceeded, and if so, what results have been achieved. In February 2006, the United State Department Fish and Wildlife Service suspended their program of issuing import permits to US hunters taking argali in Kyrgyzstan, pending receipt of additional information on the status of the taxon there (M. Carpenter, USFWS pers. comm., 2006). Issuing permits was partially reinstated in 2007, with 10 permits allowed.

Argali sheep are protected as “Rare” under the 2001 revision (Mongolian Government Act No. 264) of the 2000 Mongolian Law on Animals (Wingard and Odgerel 2002). General hunting of argali has been prohibited since 1953, and is the species is further protected as “Rare” under the 1995 Mongolian Hunting Law (Wingard and Odgerel 2002). Argali are included in Appendix II of CITES (UNEP-WCMC, 2006), with an export quota of 80 hunting trophies with horns and 44 skins and horns in 2005. Altai argali (O. a. ammon) were listed as Rare” in both the 1987 and 1997 Mongolian Red Books, and the species was upgraded to “Endangered” in Mongolia in the most recent nationwide assessment (Clark et al. 2006). Approximately 14% of the species’ range in Mongolia occurs within federal protected areas, including Altai Taivan Bogd National Conservation Park (NCP), Gobi Gurvan Saikhan NCP, Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area (SPA) sections A and B, Ikh Nart NR, Khokh Serkh SPA, Khoredal Saridag SPA, Khustai Nuruu NCP, Myangan Ugalzat Nature Reserve (NR), Sielkhem Uul NCP, Tsagaan Shuvuut SPA, Tsambagarav Uul NCP, and Turgen Uul SPA (Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002b). Small populations likely occur in other federal and provincial (aimag) or county (soum) protected areas as well.

Although protected from general hunting, trophy hunters can purchase licenses. Under the Mongolian Hunting Fee Law of 1995, revenue generated from argali trophy hunting is divided among the federal government’s general funds (70%), the local province (20%), and the hunting organization (10%); specifically, US$ 18,000 for O. a. ammon trophies and US$ 9,000 for O. a. darwini trophies is allocated to local and federal governments (Wingard and Odgerel 2002). Ostensibly this money should benefit local people, government agencies, and help implement important conservation actions for argali and the ecosystems they inhabit, but unfortunately, little of this money makes it back to local people or to the conservation of the species (Amgalanbaatar and Reading, 2000, Amgalanbaatar et al., 2002a, Wingard and Zahler 2006). Indeed, because local governments generally receive no additional revenue from trophy hunting (the federal government simply reduces payments to local governments that receive trophy hunting permits), many local governments are actively establishing protected areas to prevent future hunting (Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002a). Recent reforms to Mongolian trophy hunting practices have led to proposals for community-based wildlife management programmes (Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002a). Initial efforts by WWF-Mongolia, the Argali Wildlife Research Center, Denver Zoological Foundation, and local governments stalled; however, after initiation of a Global Environment Facility Project in the region and no progress has been made in recent years.

WWF and the Ministry of Nature and Environment organised a workshop on ‘Conservation of Argali in Mongolia’ in 2000 that resulted in a Argali Conservation Management Plan in 2002. However, this plan has not yet been adopted by the government and is not being implemented.

Mongolia’s Argali Wildlife Research Centre, Denver Zoological Foundation, and Mongolian Academy of Sciences cooperate on a number of conservation and research projects, including an interdisciplinary research and conservation project in Ikh Nart Nature Reserve, Dornogobi Aimag in cooperation with the Dalanjargal Soum Administration. That work, begun in the late 1990s, has resulted in several publications (e.g., Amgalanbaatar and Reading 2000, 2003, Reading et al. 2001, 2003, 2005; Amgalanbaatar et al., 2002a; 2002b, 2006; Tserenbataa et al. 2004, Wingard 2005), development of ecotourism to support conservation, a broad conservation education program, and active conservation management of the reserve by the Dalanjargal Soum Administration.

Additional conservation measures are desperately required in Mongolia. Clark et al. (2006) outlined the following:

• Implement the recommendations outlined in the Argali Conservation Management Plan.
• Improve enforcement of existing legislation that would help conserve argali.
• Enhance conservation management in protected areas where argali are found at high population densities, and increase the capacity of protected areas personnel and other environmental law enforcement officers.
• Work to improve the livelihoods of local communities in areas where argali are protected by local initiatives and re-initiate community-based approaches to argali conservation (Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002a).
• Develop public education programmes to raise awareness of the status of and threats to the species.
• Continue ecological research, monitor population trends, and study the impacts of threats, including work in the Altai and Khangai Mountains to complement research occurring in the Gobi Desert.
• Implement the recommendations from the Mongolian Wildlife Trade Workshop as outlined in Wingard and Zahler (2006).

Major revisions to argali trophy hunting practices in Mongolia as outlined in Amgalanbaatar et al. (2002a) could generate substantial revenue for conservation and ensure that local people benefit, greatly benefitting argali conservation. However, the barriers to changing the way trophy hunting is managed and implemented in Mongolia are formidable.

Working with local people in the Khunjerab area toward mutually agreeable conservation solutions has been a contentious issue for many years. Successful resolution of competing claims with concerns for the interests of argali will ultimately be beneficial for conservation.

Argali are listed in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation, and hunting is legally banned; it is unclear how effective this legal protection is. Argali occur in the Altaisky Zapovednik, but most argali in the Russian Federation are outside of protected areas. Both Weinberg et al. (1997) and Paltsyn (2001) suggested expanding the area under protected area status in the area. Weinberg et al. (1997) suggested that the eastern portion of Sailguem Ridge near the Mongolian border could be a possible new protected area, as well as in the upper reaches of the Chagan-Burgazy River. Paltsyn (2001) noted that WWF has become a long-term program to promote sustainable development in the Altai-Sayan region, which could have benefits for argali.

Argali occur in Pamir National Park (26,000 km²), and the Zorkul Zapovednik (870 km²), although neither protected area is fully functional (Schaller and Kang 2008). Trophy hunting began in 1987, the same year that local hunting was prohibited (Fedosenko 1999b). Quotas for trophy hunts have recently been 40-60/year (Schaller and Kang 2008), up from ~ 20/year in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Fedosenko 1999b). There are reports that additional animals are sometimes sold beyond the official quotas. Some hunting concessions actively protect argali and limit disturbance, others do not (Schaller 2003).

Sources disagree on the status of argali in Tajikistan. Protection from excessive human mortality and human disturbance appears to be strong in the southeastern corner of the country; somewhat less so in other portions of argali range (Schaller 2003). Argali have generally benefited from the substantial reduction in domestic livestock grazing in the high-elevation Pamirs following Tajikistan’s independence in 1991 (Fedosenko 1999a). However, poaching, by pastoralists, military, and border guards, may have increased since that time – perhaps in part due to the civil war of the mid 1990s -- and is only partly controlled by hunting concessions (Schaller 2003). Trophy hunts represent a substantial source of revenue that could be used for argali conservation; this appears to be occurring in some hunting concessions within Tajikistan, but not in others (Schaller 2003).

Severtzov’s argali are protected with the Nuratinski SPA and a few individuals possibly survive in the Zaaminsk SPA. The species is included in the Red Book of Uzbekistan and protected from general hunting, although limited trophy hunting is permitted and occurs irregularly. Unfortunately, little law enforcement to prevent poaching occurs outside of the protected areas. Strong anti-poaching activities, expansion of the Nuratinski SPA, and would help conservation efforts. Support for anti-poaching and pasture improvement efforts are crucial.

A captive breeding program for Severtzov’s argali occurs just outside Nuratinski SPA to supplement the wild population and provide animals for trophy hunters. Unfortunately, this facility is relatively small, has limited resources, and occasionally releases breeding males for trophy hunters. Nevertheless, this program demonstrates that, captive propagation is possible and could aid in restoring animals to portions of their range where protection from poaching and over-grazing occurs.
List of Conservation Actions:
1 Land/water protection
1.1 Site/area protection (in place)
1.2 Resource & habitat protection (in place)
2 Land/water management
2.1 Site/area management (in place)
2.3 Habitat & natural process restoration (in place)
3 Species management
3.1 Species management
3.1.1 Harvest management (in place)
3.1.2 Trade management (in place)
4 Education & awareness
4.2 Training (in place)
4.3 Awareness & communications (in place)
5 Law & policy
5.1 Legislation
5.1.2 National level (in place)
5.4 Compliance and enforcement
5.4.1 International level (in place)
5.4.2 National level (in place)

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Citation: Harris, R.B. & Reading, R. 2008. Ovis ammon. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. <>. Downloaded on 12 July 2012.
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