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[Endemic Animals]


THE ANATOLIAN WILD SHEEP      


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The Anatolian Wild sheep is one of the fifteen subspecies of the Asian Mouflan, one of five wild sheep kinds in Asia. Found only in Turkey, these species are unique to Turkey.

Turkey is actually home to one of the other fifteen subspecies. The only difference between the ovis gmelinii, found in eastern Anatolia, and the ovis gmelinii anatolica, the Anatolian wild sheep, is that the females are horned. These species migrate to Iran during the winter and return to Turkey in the spring.

The Anatolian wild sheep, besides being unique to Turkey, is also thought to be the ancestor of the domesticated sheep. Turkish and foreign scientists continue their research to find an answer to this question. The absence of horns in the female type strengthens this theory. Still, their appearance is very different than their domesticated relatives.

With its short wool, short ears and tails, and long and thin legs, the Anatolian wild sheep looks more like a deer and perhaps this is why it is called “ceren” (baby gazelle) by the common people. The wild sheep have remarkably developed visual senses and possess an acute sight like almost all vegetarians. Their hearing (audition) and sense of odor (smell) are also developed. Extremely agile and quick, wild sheep’s front legs are shorter than their hind legs enabling them to rapidly run up hills in the face of danger.

While the Female wild sheep can be between 80 to 90 centimeters and 35 to 50-kilograms, the rams can reach up to 105 to 149 centimeters in height and 45 to 75 kilograms in weight. Females usually reach sexual maturity by the age of 1,5 and the male does by the age of 3,5. Their average life span is 15 to 18 years.

Their pelt that is in tune with their surroundings gives them the advantage of camouflage. They are forbearing against thirst. They eat about 100 kinds of plant species and live in 1000-1700 meter heights. Their pelt that becomes thicker during the winter makes them durable against the cold.

The pelt does not just change color seasonally but also in time. The post of the males that are over the age of two turns into a darker color while the white spots named hindquarters, on both sides of their abdominal region become more apparent as they get older. The black mane that grows on the neck and chest region and is unique to rams, are also longer on old rams. While the length of their wool is around 3,5-4 centimeters, their mane can grow up to 9-10 centimeters. For this reason old rams have a more impressive outlook than the young ones.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of rams are their horns. Their horns start to develop when they are about four months old and grow bigger with age. The horns start to curve upward and outward by the age of 5–6 and by the age of 12-13 they reach their maximum size.

Just as the circles on a tree, the lines on their horns show the age of the ram. The circles that form every year are darker in color compared to the rings that can also form monthly. The yearly circle number shows the age of the ram. Another feature of the horns is the class distinction it creates among the rams. In the hierarchical order of the ram herd the ones with small horns are at the bottom while rams with bigger horns take on a more dominant role.

The male and female Anatolian wild sheep herds spend almost ten months of the year separated. The male herds are usually made up of 10-15 individuals, while the female herds are made up of 18-20 individual sheep. At the sign of danger, the old and experienced sheep that takes on the leader role, stamps his foot and makes a noise that sounds like a whistle to warn the herd and lead it to a safe region. Ram herds consist only of males that have reached sexual maturity. The ones that are still considered a “youngster” wander around with the female herd.

Wild sheep form crowded and mixed herds only during the mating season. During this time usually an old female takes on the role of the herd leader.

During the summer the female and male herds spend approximately 8-10 hours of their day pasturing as separate herds and in different meadows. In November-December the rams slowly start to show up in the female region and get into intense fights for the female. The winter season that penetrates right after the mating period is the toughest time of the year for the wild sheep. The wild sheep that have a hard time finding food under the thick blanket of snow dig the dirt to reach the tubers left from the summer. The female and male sheep are divided again during this time. After a five-month pregnancy period, in May, the pregnant females leave the herd and go to the back of beyond. Shortly after they give birth they return to their herds. The baby sheep that can run as fast as their mothers just couple of hours after their birth, give the good news of the next generation wild sheep.

The Anatolian wild sheep is under the threat of extinction. There have been various on going efforts to increase its numbers and regain the Anatolian wild sheep as a part of Turkey’s biodiversity. To preserve the wild sheep from becoming extinct a project has been launched in Bozdag, Konya. Within the context of this project, wild sheep have been brought to the Karatepe locale near the Sariyar dam in Nallihan and have been brought under protection and have adapted to the natural environment of the region.

The wild sheep live in an area enclosed by about 16 hectares (40 acres) of land. They have procreated 11 offspring the next year in their new living space.