Marcopolo Sheep is recognised by the very long outward curving horns, developed in the mature males. An aged ram is surely one of the most impressive animals being not only the bearer of massive spiraling horns which can span a man\'s outstretched arms, but also being almost twice the height and size of most other wild or domestic sheep. In Summer the colour is sandy-reddish. In winter the animal looks bulkier and slightly grayer with much white about the neck and chest in old rams.
They inhabit very high mountain plateau regions subjected to severely cold winds and rather arid climatic conditions throughout the year and are only found from about 4500 m upto 6100 m in the Pamir range of mountains. Marcopolo sheep migrates in early Winter from Chinese Turkestan across the Khunjerab Pass into Northern Hunza. It also migrates in winter from the Hindukush Mountains across the Killick Pass further to the Northern West and also into Hunza.
On these exposed rocky slopes Marcopolo Sheep can find Winter forage which is apparently not available on the Northern facing slopes and higher parts of Pamir where snow lies deeper. In the early spring these sheep again migrate northwards into Chinese Turkestan or Afghan Territory and the lambs are born outside Pakistan.
This is a gregarious species, generally congregating in herds of a dozen or more individuals.
These herds consist of females with their sub-adult young and immature males. Outside rutting season mature rams live in small bands of two or three, rarely upto five or six occurring together. Female herds live and feed at lower elevations while rams remain in the more remote valley higher up the permanent snow line. They confine their feeding activity to a few hours just after dawn and again become active in the evening. During the middle of the day they retreat to some higher boulder strewn ridges where they lie down. They have extremely good eyesight and sense of smell and are always very wary and difficult to approach. If domestic livestock intrude upon their feeding ground they will often retreat into another valley.
They graze mainly on the scattered bunches of grass. In Summer months this grass grows almost knee high in some parts of Pamir and the animals become quite fat. In Winter they suffer from food scarcity, especially the females which feed on lower slopes and face more competition from domestic sheep and goat flocks kept by the Nomadic Kirghiz. The rams remaining at higher elevations, inaccessible in female flocks, appear to keep in better condition. The rut takes place later in November extending even to early December. The gestation period appears to be about 51/2 months with only a single or occasionally twin lambs being born in May and June.
Marcopolo Sheep maintain instraspecific contact by means of the pedal scent glands and their white caudal areas. When danger threatens, flocks tend to bunch together, stamp their feet and after running some distance away stop and turn to face the danger.
Population of the sheep visiting Pakistan during Winter has decreased to a few hundred mainly due to excessive exploitation and degradation and destruction of habitat. It is now protected by law in Pakistan. Its hunting, trapping and export including products, trophies other parts and derivatives is banned. It is included in Appendix-II of the convention on International Trade in endangered species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) due to which trade in live specimens, trophies etc. is regulated throughout the world. Its habitat has been designated Khunjerab National Park. Its fate in Pakistan could further improve if domestic livestock is not grazed in its habitat. If its illegal hunting is stopped effectively and if local poor people, who are forced to do subsistence hunting are provided meat and beef as an alternative.
All Pakistanis can help to preserve this most beautiful sheep in the country through a fund raising and publicity campaign.
(Contributed by the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife, Islamabad).
To focus world attention on the need to protect this vulnerable Wildlife species Pakistan Post Office is issuing one special postage stamp of Rs. 2/- value depicting \"Marcopolo Sheep\" on December 4, 1986 on the eve of Wildlife Conservation Seminar being inaugurated by the President of Pakistan, General Mohammad Ziaul Haq. It is a part of the series on Wildlife stamps being issued by Pakistan Post Office since 1975.