Altai Argali wild sheep | WWF

Altai Argali wild sheep


Altai Argali (Ovis ammon ammon) inhabiting the high Altai mountain region of western and south-western Mongolia is one of two sub-species of Argali-wild sheep (Ovis ammon).

According to the international (IUCN, 2010), it was listed as near threatened species and the regional assessment (IUCN, 2006) as endangered species.  The Argali is legally protected by the Mongolian Laws on Fauna and Hunting, where its hunting is prohibited (Badam, Ariunzul, 2005). Additionally, the species is listed as very rare species in the second edition of Mongolian Red Book (Shagdarsuren, 1987; Shiirevdamba, 1997). 
Common Name:
Argali wild sheep
Scientific Name: Ovis ammon
The species is relatively abundant in Mongol Altai, Gobi Altai, Hangay mountain ranges, Zuungaryn Gobi, and Altai Uvur Gobi mountains, and Alashani Gobi mountains, Middle Khalkh, and the northern Gobi low mountains and along the lakes. However, it is sparcely found in Khovsgol. Distribution areas are vast, but its populations are fragmented. Depending on seasons and pastureland conditions, the populations often move between low and moderate mountain valleys. 
Argali is mountain flagship species. Suitable habitats of the species include steppe grass, forb, shrub dominant rocky low mountains, granite bearing low mountains, the northern Gobi, and the Middle Khalkh low mountains and hills that are distributed by grass e.g. Stipa spp., Festuca lenensis, Koeleria macranta, and Agropyron cristatum and Carex spp. and forb dominant mountain steppe shrubland distributed by Amygdalus pedinculata, Caragana stenophylla, Caragana pygmaea, Atraphaxis frutescens, Ribes diacantha, Spiraea aquilegifolia, Cotoneaster melanocarpa, Caryopteris mongolica, Kochia prostrata, and Oxytropis tragacanthoides, Suitable habitats in the Gobi and desert are low mountains and hills distributed by Stipa glareosa, Stipa gobica, Stipa-Allium-Artemisia, Ajania fruticulosa and saltwort Salsola spp communities.

There were 40.000 individuals in 1970 (Dulamtseren, 1970), 20.000 individuals in 1994 (Reading et al., 1997), and 13.000-15.000 individuals in 2001 (Amgalanbaatar et al., 2002b). However, according to the inventory conducted in 2010 there were 19,700 individuals recorded (B. Lkhagvasuren unpublished report, 2010). 
Causes of scarcity/rarity:
Main cause of population decrease is harsh natural condition of subsequently happened droughts and dzud, heavy snow falls. Moreover, illegal hunting and attacks by big predators e.g. snow leopard, wolf, and lynx impact on decrease of adult individuals, but attacks by the species e.g. red fox and golden eagle impact on decrease of baby an  young individuals (lambs).  Due to increasing livestock heads within the habitats and distribution areas, overgrazing, pastureland deterioration and competition between Argali and domestic livestock have been a big concern. Moreover, mining of gold and other minerals pushes away the species from its habitats and results in loss of habitats and distribution areas.    
Conservation Status:
• “Rare” of Law on Fauna (2000);
• “endangered” per IUCN Red List (2006),
• CITES Appendix I (1994)
Main threats:
• Unsustainable and over harvesting practice in absence of management plans for game species of strategic importance;
• socio-economic implications for local communities resulted in unfair benefit sharing and violation of social justice, rights and entitlements due to current practice of centralized decision making /licensing scheme;
• allocation of a tiny portion of revenue to local economy;
• poaching for extra cash;
• habitat loss and competition with livestock are major threats causing species decline equaling to 72.0 % decrease.

The conservation approach for the Argali population is limited to habitat protection efforts requiring substantial financial and human resource investment.  Therefore, WWF Mongolia’s position is to simultaneously institute Argali sustainable use and management practices based on community stewardship. This will guarantee socio-economic and environmental justice and long-term species conservation.