Argali are the largest wild sheep on the planet.
Inhabiting areas ranging from the Gobi Desert to the Himalayas, these massive mountain ungulates are prized by hunters seeking high adventure.
However, a study conducted in the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in Mongolia shows the lowest of predators threatens these great animals.
Researchers there tracked collared argali for a minimum of two weeks each month, and survival was monitored daily with binoculars and telemetry. Collars were equipped with mortality sensors.
In the study first published in Bioscience, researchers said in cases of predation, attempts were made to identify the predator species. These include wolves, feral dogs, foxes, and snow leopards.
“Fox and snow leopard kills could normally be distinguished from those of other predators by a combination of signs, including the tracks, scat, and the distance between puncture wounds. However, kills made by either a wolf or by feral dogs could not be distinguished confidently in all cases and were classified only as canid.”
They said dog predation in the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve was responsible for between 2.7 and 34.2 percent of GPS-collared argali deaths. Although only 2.7 percent were positively identified as dog kills, wolves were sighted just six times in eight years, whereas feral dogs were common.
“We also found or observed five uncollared argali killed by free-roaming dogs during the study period. The deaths of radio-collared argali during this study, therefore, suggest that dogs may be a large source of mortality.”
Since these researchers have been cautious in blaming dogs yet have shown they are a big part of the mortality equation in this particular area, it begs the following questions.
- How much do feral dogs impact wild sheep in other areas of Asia?
- Are feral dogs responsible for some of the killings blamed on wolves in certain areas? (Remember, researchers said feral dogs were “frequently seen,” and they saw wolves only six times in eight years in the study area.)
- Could organized control of feral dogs have a positive and practical impact on argali?
Whether it’s the Gobi argali impacted here, the massive Altai argali, or the Marco Polo sheep, these animals are important to Asia’s wildscapes and the hunters who trek there.
Studies like this one can help hunter-conservationists uncover how we can conserve these great animals or the future.