Sir Peter Scott Fund project: Northern Chinese Argali, Inner Mongolia

'Status of the least understood sheep, the endangered Northern Chinese Argali'

Objectives

  • To collect information on this little known species
  • To conduct field studies to establish its presence
  • To collect samples for genetic analysis
  • To inform authorities on how to conserve this species

Background

So little is known about this ‘majestic’ type of wild sheep that no conservation strategy has so far been developed.

It is clear that the Northern Chinese Argali (Ovis ammon jubata) population is in dramatic decline because of its marked disappearance from the isolated hills of Inner Mongolia.

The impressive nature of the Argali has made it a highly-prized hunting trophy, generating a great deal of income for local livelihoods. It is also a good source of meat to remote communities.

The aims of this project are simple: to create a status report on the argali population of Inner Mongolia and to communicate the findings to Chinese authorities and IUCN in order to develop conservation strategies.

Field studies for this project commenced in August 2008.

Project updates


(December 2008) In August 2008, the team travelled to Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, to plan fieldwork and interview scientists and agency personnel who have knowledge of the argali in Inner Mongolia. From these interviews, they were able to produce a preliminary idea of where argali probably still exist, and select areas where surveys would be profitable and where any O. a. jubata would most likely be found. Surveys to be conducted in areas which are sensitive regions for non-Chinese citizens were delegated to the Inner Mongolia Normal University.

A decision was made to conduct a survey in Lang Shan in March 2009, as this is the range purported to have argali that are most closely connected with the area in which O. a. jubata specimens were collected in 1921.

Bone fragments from skulls of 10 specimens, and photographs of 12 specimens were examined at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA.
 
The Inner Mongolia Normal University survey took place in several areas within North-central Inner Mongolia. This involved direct observation in the area and interviews with pastoralists and military personnel. A group of 7 female argali was encountered and photographed in the Hada Shan area. Plans for 2009 include a 10-day survey of Lang Shan, and if funding allows, genetic testing of tissue samples from the American Museum of Natural History, in order to help build up a phylogenetic tree of the argali population.
 

(April 2009) Forestry and nature reserve officials of the Lang Shan were interviewed, as were long-term local residents. As a result of these interviews, all of which reported that no sightings of argali have been made for several years, it is thought that argali are no longer present in the area, though explanations as to why this loss has occurred differed from person to person. It is thought that the international border fence may be obstructing natural movement patterns for the species, and as such the research team suggests lowering the top few wires of the fence in order to allow argali to cross, without enabling illegal human crossing.

(September 2009) This project has now successfully been completed. Based on the information available from the study, it has been concluded that the subspecies O.a.jubata has become extirpated.

Duration: 2008 - 2009
Project leader: Dr. Richard B. Harris
IUCN SSC Specialist Group: Caprinae
Project donors:
IUCN & Fondation Ensemble