Bharals are distributed broadly across the Tibetan Plateau, a relatively inaccessible habitat for humans. In addition to Tibet, the plateau includes the high montane regions of China, the northeastern corner of Pakistan, and the mountains of northwestern Nepal, and the Indian sector bordering China (Wang and Hoffman 1987).
Blue Sheep occupy a variety of habitats across the region. They are very tolerant of environmental extremes from desert mountains in searing heat to windy and cold slopes (Schaller 1998). They are usually found near cliffs and similar escape cover, but avoid entering forested areas (Schaller,1977).
Blue Sheep possess a stocky body and stout legs, with robust shoulders and a broad chest (Wang and Hoffman 1987). Their pelage ranges from grayish brown to slate blue (Schaller 1998), hence the common name blue sheep. The blue tint of the bharals makes them almost invisible against the background of blue-grayish rock that is typical within their habitat (Wang and Hoffman 1987). Their hair is short and they lack a beard. There is a black stripe that separates the upper parts of the back from the white side. Their horns sweep up and out and then curve back before curling at the tip. Females resemble males except they have shorter horns and the stripe is gray instead of black (Schaller 1998).
Male bharals show little interest in females until the females are in estrus, beginning near the end of November to February, with the young being born between mid-May and early-July (Schaller 1977). Estrus lasts for over a month in this species but altitude decides the start time. The differences among elevations can probably be ascribed to the availability of high-quality forage during the time of gestation (Schaller 1998).
Young males less than a year old have straight horns, 5 cm long, and a woolly cap of hair. Yearling males are about 2/3 the size of adult females. They lack the lateral stripes and their horns are about 15 cm. When they reach 3 years of age they are the size of the adult females, but still lack the stripe. Their horns reach about 35 cm. By 5-7 years of age the males reach full maturity with their horns reaching 45-55 cm long. Schaller (1977)
Adults have a relatively long life as determined from growth rings on the horns. To get an idea of the maximum lifespan of these animals samples were taken from hunters: 10% lived 1-4 yrs, 73% 4-10 yrs, and 17% 11-15 yrs. Over 80% of the males died between the ages of 4-10 years during their prime. Males are represented here because of the bias of hunters, and young males and females are underrepresented because of their small horns being less attractive to trophy hunters (Schaller 1998).
Bharals are gregarious with group sizes ranging from 5-400 individuals. The wide range of herd size depends on season, population size, habitat condition, hunting pressure and disturbance (Schaller 1998). Herd composition changes frequently as single members and groups join and part. Aggressive behaviors include broadside display, horning vegatation, jerk and lunge, head shake, jump, butt, and clash among the members (Wang and Hoffman 1987). Females also behave aggressively toward other females sometimes biting (Schaller 1977).
Bharals mainly feed on dry grasses in the winter, and alpine grasses in the summer (Schaller 1977). However, Blue sheep display much seasonal change in diet. According to Schaller (1998), graminoids (grasses) ranged from 10.5% up to 92% of the diet in the summer, but grasses were also the main source of diet in the winter, supplemented with shrubs and forbs. The great range in the percentage of grasses is because of the many different types of habitat these animals occupy. Abundance of grasses can be different throughout the plateau due to the increasing latitude. The higher the latitude the lower the percentage of grass found in their diet, while the percentage of the supplemental shrubs, forbs, and occasional twigs increases.
Bharal practice two antipredator strategies. They almost always remain near cliffs, in preparation to run toward rugged slopes to avoid danger with a female leading the retreat (Wang and Hoffman 1987). Also, they give sharp alarm calls to warn fellow members of the herd (Schaller 1977).
Bharals populations seem to be healthy. As a result,in some areas they are hunted. They are considered trophy kills because of the rugged terrain one must conquer in order to find them, and there are many organized trips one can take to the Tibetan Plataeu to try one's luck. They are also important as the primary prey of snow leopards. In areas of their range in India, domestic livestock may interfere with bharals populations.
Population control is probably nessesary because of overgrazing and the destruction of grasslands. Currently, hunting and predation keeps this from being a problem.
The blue sheep are widespread and locally abundant, this situation is well suited for a well-regulated management program that could include a sustainable annual harvest in certain areas for commercial purposes (Schaller 1998).
The mixture of sheeplike and goatlike traits have created confusion about the evolutionary relationships of this species. Schaller (1998) argues that,
"They lack beards and calluses on the knees, they have no strong body odor and the females have small, almost nonfunctional horns, all characters typical of sheep." However, "they resemble goats in their flat broad tail with a bare ventral surface, the conspicuous markings on the forelegs, and the large dew claws," the structure and color of the horns are also the same as in goats. Schaller concludes that they are goats with sheeplike traits. Molecular evidence suggests that he is correct.
Dwarf blue sheep (Psuedois nayaur schaeferi) are a distinct and isolated group of bharals. However, they are sometimes classified as a separate species and could be an example of a peripheral isolate in the process of speciation (Wang and Hoffman). But because of their small range (only in China), habitat destruction, and over hunting, the group is endangered. As of 1997, China did not recognize them as a seperate species so efforts to conserve the species have not been initiated (Shackleton 1997).
Mary Alice Smith (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Bret Weinstein (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
parental care is carried out by females
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
an animal that mainly eats seeds
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
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Massicot, Paul, 2001. "Animal Info- Dwarf Blue Sheep" (On-line). Accessed 11-13-2001 at http://www.animalinfo.org/species/artiperi/pseuscha.htm.
Schaller, George B., 1977. Mountain Monarchs. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Schaller, George B., 1998. Wildlife of the Tibetan Steppe. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Shackleton, D.M., 1997. Wild Sheep and Goats and their Relatives-Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Caprinea. IUCN.
Valdez, Raul, 1982. The Wild Sheep of the World. Mesilla, New Mexico: Wild Sheep and Goat International.
Wang, Xiaoming, , Hoffman, Robert S.. February 1987. Pseudois nayaur and Pseudois schaeferi. Pp. No. 278 pp.1-6 in Mammalian Species. The American Society of Mammalogists.