The aoudad (Barbary sheep) is now a part of the Southwestern landscape that will never leave it-at least not until something cataclysmic like a worldwide flood or giant astroid strikes the planet.
Imported from north Africa for hunting more than 60 years ago in Texas there are now large feral populations in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
The aoudad is rufous tawny in color according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
“The insides of the legs are whitish. There is no beard, but there is a ventral mane of long, soft hairs on the throat, chest, and upper part of the forelegs. The horns of the male sweep outward, backward, and then inward; they are rather heavy and wrinkled, and measure up to 34 inches in length. Females also have prominent horns although they are not as large as those of the male.”
According to Wikipedia aoudad are fond of mountainous areas where they both graze and a browse.
They are able to obtain get all their moisture from food, but if liquid water is available, they drink it and wallow in it. They are crepuscular which means they are active in the early morning and late afternoon and resting in the heat of the day. They are very agile and can achieve a standing jump of over seven feet and will flee at the first sign of danger.
“They are well adapted to their habitats which consist of steep rocky mountains and canyons. When threatened, they always run up and bounce back and forth over the tops of the mountains to elude predators below. They stay in rough, steep country because they are more suited to the terrain than any of their predators. Aoudad are extremely nomadic and travel constantly via mountain ranges.”
One rancher had a 640 acre tract in Real County that was high fenced and had aoudad on it when he bough it. If you were to take all of the surface acres with canyons, hills and caves it is probably more like three times that size, at least it feels that way when I have been there.
Aoudad have rarely been killed there although herds as large as 30 have been seen.
He came across an aoudad ewe at a game sale and had the idea to fit her with a bell around her neck. When she got with the herd, he could hear the area they were in on the ranch. It is often extremely quiet out there.
The herd completely rejected her.
Another ranch had an aoudad in an acre pen that had grass grown up several feet high. They went to find the animal to try and lead it into a chute to put in a cage for the sale. It took them an hour to find the aoudad in an acre pen. They animal kept quietly crawling around on its knees.
These animals are survivors but are extremely elusive. Even in areas where they are common aoudad are far more shy than any of the native North American sheep.
Wildlife managers believe they outcompete native sheep for food and water but there are opposing viewpoints out there. We will discuss some of those in coming posts but either way the aoudad is here to stay.
Chester Moore, Jr.