Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


World's Largest Sheep an International Traveler

Wildlife Conservation Society recommends international monitoring, protection needed for Marco Polo sheep

A genetic study of the world’s largest sheep species has revealed that the big-horned animals travel extensively across the moutainous borders of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China according to Wildlife Conservation Society researchers with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Marco Polo sheep is named after the 13th Century explorer who described the animal in his travelogue. This huge sheep has the longest horns of its kind, with adult males having a spiraling span of up to six feet between the tips. Photo credit: Photo(s) Copyright Beth Wald 2005.

Using a non-invasive technique that extracts DNA from fecal samples, researchers in WCS’s Afghanistan Program found that Marco Polo sheep in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan are genetically connected to sheep in neighboring Tajikistan and China, in spite of the challenging terrain.

The study produced two recently published papers, appearing in recent editions of Conservation Genetics and Journal of Wildlife Management. The authors of the papers include: Richard.B. Harris of the University of Montana, and John Winnie, Jr.of Montana State University (both of whom did their work under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society); Gordon Luikart, Stephen. J. Amish, and F.W. Allendorf of the University of Montana; and Albano Beja-Pereira, Vânia Costa, and Raquel Godinho of the Universidade do Porto (Portugal).

”Wide-ranging species such as Marco Polo sheep are difficult to monitor in the best of conditions, and our ability to follow them across their mountain habitats is limited,” said Richard B. Harris, a wildlife scientist from the University of Montana and the Wildlife Conservation Society. ”Non-invasive methods of determining population trends and relatedness are extremely valuable in understanding how to best protect these magnificent animals.”

Because Marco Polo (or argali) sheep are elusive animals that are difficult to track, the research team collected fecal samples from 172 individual sheep from five different areas in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China as a means of answering questions about the genetic diversity and connectivity of animals in the region. Researchers searched for sheep on high vantage points, collecting fecal pellets after a group of animals was located. Genetic material was then extracted from the fecal matter and isolated for statistical analysis.

According to the study results, Marco Polo sheep populations in the Pamirs have a high degree of genetic diversity. Indications of genetic connectivity were detected between sheep populations in both Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Sheep in China, however, were found to be somewhat more isolated, highlighting a need for international collaboration in protecting corridors between the region’s countries.

”Genetic studies such as these are the only feasible option for answering important questions on how to best manage wide-ranging species that occur in remote locations such as the Marco Polo sheep,” said Peter Zahler, Deputy Director for WCS’s Asia Program. ”The study’s results underline the need for international cooperation between Afghanistan, Tajikistan, China, and even Pakistan to ensure that the world’s Marco Polo sheep populations can continue to move across these giant mountains as needed, irrespective of political boundaries.”

With the assistance of WCS and support from USAID (United States Agency for International Development), the government of Afghanistan has launched several initiatives to safeguard the country’s wild places and the wildlife they contain. In 2009, the government gazetted the country’s first national park, Band-e-Amir. The park was established with technical assistance from WCS’s Afghanistan Program. WCS also worked with Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA) in producing the country’s first-ever list of protected species, an action that now bans the hunting of snow leopards, wolves, brown bears, and other species. In a related effort, WCS now works to limit illegal wildlife trade in the country through educational workshops for soldiers at Bagram Air Base and other military bases across Afghanistan. WCS also works with more than 55 local communities in Afghanistan to better manage their natural resources, helping them conserve wildlife while improving their livelihoods. WCS has helped train and deploy more than 50 community rangers to monitor wildlife such as Marco Polo sheep, and also patrol the region to stop poaching.

The Marco Polo sheep is actually a subspecies of argali and is named after the 13th Century explorer who described the animal in his travelogue. Argali are classified as Near Threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Marco Polo sheep are threatened by human-related activities such as poaching, habitat degradation and fragmentation.

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit

Special Note to the Media: If you would like to guide your readers or viewers to a web link where they can make donations in support of helping save wildlife and wild places, please direct them to:

Stephen Sautner | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Solid progress in carbon capture

27.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>