The mouflon (Ovis gmelini) is a wild sheep native to the Caspian region from eastern Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan to Iran.[1] It is thought to be the ancestor of all modern domestic sheep breeds.[2][3]

Mouflon in zoo.jpg
A group of mouflon at the Buffalo Zoo
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Caprinae
Genus: Ovis
O. gmelini
Binomial name
Ovis gmelini
Blyth, 1841

Ovis musimon
Ovis orientalis orientalis


Ovis gmelini was the scientific name proposed by Edward Blyth in 1841 for wild sheep in the Middle East.[4] In the 19th and 20th centuries, several wild sheep were described that are considered mouflon subspecies today:[5]


A European mouflon male in the German forest

Mouflon have reddish to dark brown, short-haired coats with dark back stripes and black ventral areas and light-colored saddle patches. The males are horned; some females are horned, while others are polled. The horns of mature rams are curved in almost one full revolution (up to 85 cm). Mouflon have shoulder heights of around 0.9 m and body weights of 50 kg (males) and 35 kg (females).[8]

Distribution and habitatEdit

The mouflon occurs in southeastern Turkey, southern Armenia, southern Azerbaijan, northern Iraq, western southern and Iran.[1] It was possibly introduced to Cyprus during the neolithic period.[9] This population consists of about 3,000 animals.[1]

Mouflon were later introduced into continental Europe, including Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, central Italy, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, the Canary Islands, and even some northern European countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

A small population exists in the remote Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean, and on the Veliki Brijun Island in the Brijuni Archipelago of the Istrian Peninsula in Croatia. In South America, mouflon have been introduced into central Chile and Argentina. Mouflon have been introduced as game animals into Spieden Island in Washington state, and into the Hawaiian islands of Lanai and Hawaii where they have become a problematic invasive species. A small population escaped from an animal enclosure on the island of North Haven, Maine, in the 1990s and still survives there.



The scientific classification of the mouflon is disputed.[10] Five subspecies of mouflon are distinguished by MSW3:[11]

  • Armenian mouflon (Armenian red sheep), Ovis gmelini gmelini (Blyth, 1851), northwestern Iran, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. It has been introduced in Texas, US.
  • European mouflon, O. g. musimon (Pallas, 1811) was introduced about 7,000 years ago in Corsica and Sardinia for the first time. It has since been introduced in many parts of Europe.
  • Cyprus mouflon, O. g. ophion (Blyth, 1841), also called agrino, from the Greek Αγρινό was nearly extirpated during the 20th century. In 1997, about 1,200 of this subspecies were counted. The television show Born to Explore with Richard Wiese reported 3,000 are now on Cyprus.
  • Esfahan mouflon, O. g. isphahanica (Nasonov, 1910), is from the Zagros Mountains, Iran.
  • Laristan mouflon, O. g. laristanica (Nasonov, 1909), is a small subspecies; its range is restricted to some desert reserves near Lar in southern Iran.

The eastern and the European mouflon often appear in scientific literature as separate species, Ovis musimon and Ovis orientalis. The mouflons are also sometimes treated as a subspecies of the domestic sheep, Ovis aries, named with the same subspecific epithet as above: O. a. musimon, O. a. ophion, etc.[12]

Relation to other sheepEdit

Based on comparison of mitochondrial cytochrome b gene sequences, three groups of sheep (Ovis) have been identified: Pachyceriforms of Siberia (snow sheep) and North America (bighorn and Dall sheep), Argaliforms (argali) of Central Asia, and Moufloniforms (urial, mouflon, and domestic sheep) of Eurasia.[13] However, a comparison of the mitochondrial DNA control region (CR) found that two subspecies of urial, Ovis vignei (or orientalis) arkal and O. v./o. bochariensis, grouped with two different clades of argali (Ovis ammon).[3]

The ancestral sheep is presumed to have had 60 chromosomes, as in goats (Capra). Mouflon and domestic sheep have 54 chromosomes, with three pairs (1+3, 2+8, 5+11) of ancestral acrocentric chromosomes joined to form bi-armed chromosomes. This is in contrast to the argali and urial, which have 56 and 58 chromosomes respectively. If the urial is as closely related to the mouflons as mitochondrial DNA indicates, then two chromosomes would need to have split during its evolution away from the mouflon (sub)species.[13]

Behaviour and ecologyEdit


Mouflon rams have a strict dominance hierarchy. Before mating season or "rut", which is from late autumn to early winter, rams try to create a dominance hierarchy to determine access to ewes (female mouflon) for mating. Mouflon rams fight one another to obtain dominance and win an opportunity to mate with females. Mouflons reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 to 4 years. Young rams need to obtain dominance before they get a chance to mate, which takes another 3 years for them to start mating. Mouflon ewes also go through a similar hierarchy process in terms of social status in the first 2 years, but can breed even at low status. Pregnancy in females lasts 5 months, in which they produce one to two offspring.[citation needed]

A mouflon was cloned successfully in early 2001, and lived at least seven months, making it the first clone of an endangered mammal to survive beyond infancy.[14][15][16] This demonstrated that a common species (in this case, a domestic sheep) can successfully become a surrogate for the birth of an exotic animal such as the mouflon. If cloning of the mouflon can proceed successfully, it has the potential to reduce strain on the number of living specimens.

Mouflon in cultureEdit

The wild sheep of Corsica were locally called mufro (male) and mufra (female). The French naturalist Buffon (1707–1788) rendered this in French as moufflon. The male mouflon is denominated in Corsica Mufro, and the female Mufra, from which the word Moufflon was formed; in Sardinia, the male is called Murvoni, and the female Murva, though it is not unusual to hear the peasants style both indiscriminately Mufion, which is a palpable corruption of the Greek Ophion.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Michel, S. & Ghoddousi, A. (2020). "Ovis gmelini". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020: e.T54940218A22147055.
  2. ^ Hiendleder, S.; Kaupe, B.; Wassmuth, R.; Janke, A. (2002). "Molecular analysis of wild and domestic sheep questions current nomenclature and provides evidence for domestication from two different subspecies". Proceedings: Biological Sciences. 269 (1494): 893–904. doi:10.1098/rspb.2002.1975. PMC 1690972. PMID 12028771.
  3. ^ a b Hiendleder, S.; Mainz, K.; Plante, Y.; Lewalski, H. (1998). "Analysis of mitochondrial DNA indicates that domestic sheep are derived from two different ancestral maternal sources: No evidence for contributions from urial and argali sheep". Journal of Heredity. 89 (2): 113–120. doi:10.1093/jhered/89.2.113. PMID 9542158.
  4. ^ a b Blyth, E. (1841). "An Amended List of the Species of the Genus Ovis". The Annals and Magazine of Natural History; Zoology, Botany, and Geology. 7 (44): 248–261.
  5. ^ IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group (2000). Workshop on Caprinae taxonomy, 8–10 May 2000. Ankara, Turkey: IUCN.
  6. ^ Nasonov, N.V. (1909). "Note préliminaire sur une nouvelle espèce de Mouton sauvage, Ovis laristanica, de la Persie méridionale" (PDF). Извѣстія Императорской Академіи Наукъ. VI. 3 (18): 1179–1180.
  7. ^ Nasonov, N.V. (1910). "О дикомъ восточномъ баранҍ С. Гмелина (Ovis orientalis Pall.)" [About the wild eastern sheep C. gmelina (Ovis orientalis Pall.)] (PDF). Извҍстiя Императорской Академiи Наукъ. VI (in Russian). 4 (9): 681–710.
  8. ^ MacDonald, D.; Barret, P. (1993). Mammals of Britain & Europe. 1. London: HarperCollins. pp. 220–221. ISBN 978-0-00-219779-3.
  9. ^ Vigne, J.D. (1994). "Les transferts anciens de mammifères en Europe occidentale: histoires, mécanismes et implications dans les sciences de l'homme et les sciences de la vie". Colloques d'Histoire des Sciences zoologiques. 5: 15–37.
  10. ^ Tonda, J. (2002). "Ovis ammon". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved November 19, 2005.
  11. ^ Wilson, Don E.; Reeder, DeeAnn M. (2005). Mammal Species of the World A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0.
  12. ^ Encyclopedia of Life, "Ovis aries musimon, European Mouflon Sheep – Names" [1]
  13. ^ a b Bunch, Wu, Zhang, Wang (2005). "Phylogenetic analysis of the snow sheep (Ovis nivicola) and closely related taxa", Journal of Heredity, 97 (1) 21–30. [2]
  14. ^ Loi, P.; Ptak, G.; Barboni, B.; Fulka Jr, J.; Cappai, P.; Clinton, M. (2001). "Genetic rescue of an endangered mammal by cross-species nuclear transfer using post-mortem somatic cells". Nature Biotechnology. 19 (10): 962–964. doi:10.1038/nbt1001-962. PMID 11581663. S2CID 10633589.
  15. ^ Trivedi, B. P. (2001). "Scientists Clone First Endangered Species: a Wild Sheep". National Geographic Today. Retrieved February 21, 2006.
  16. ^ Winstead, E. (2001). "Endangered wild sheep clone reported to be healthy". Genome News Network. Retrieved April 10, 2007.
  17. ^ Blyth, E.; Owen, R. (1840). "On the species of the genus Ovis". Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 8: 62–79.

External linksEdit