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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mouflon Rams Fight

Today I got a call to work a late-season trip on the Western Prince. We headed out into the windy, choppy seas under sunny skies to see what we could find, and our most interesting encounter of the day actually involved terrestrial rather than marine mammals.

We have a bizarre island just north of San Juan called Spieden Island. A few decades ago, this island was an exotic game ranch, where people could come and hunt trophy species. The business venture didn't last very long, but attempts to round up the animals were unsuccessful so they were allowed to roam free. Three of the exotic species have now established breeding population on the island: Mouflon sheep from the middle east and western Europe, the European fallow deer, and the Japanese sika deer. We see all three species frequently from the boat as they graze on the south side of the island, but today we witnessed something I've never seen before: a fight between two of the male Mouflon rams.

Mouflon are thought to be one of the two original ancestors of all domestic sheep breeds, and are actually an endangered species in their native habitat. In 2001, they became the first endangered species to be cloned and live beyond infancy, a technique that, if refined, could change conservation management of endangered species. During the summer, males and females spend most of their time apart, but in the fall, males battle for access to groups of females.

During the battle we witnessed, the two males circled each other, often headbutting each other in the flanks rather than facing off head-to-head. A few times they descended close to the cliffs near the edge of the island, and we wondered if one or both might slip and fall off. Each time, though, they interlocked horns and walked back up to higher ground. In the end, there was a clear winner and as one ram retreated, the other one chased him far away from the rest of the herd.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good good good......