China strengthens efforts to protect Marco Polo sheep

URUMQI (Xinhua) – Chinese researchers have identified several potential ecological corridors of Marco Polo sheep, a subspecies of argali sheep, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Led by Yang Weikang, a researcher with the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the team has identified potential ecological corridors for the sheep in Taxkorgan wildlife nature reserve after three years of field observation and data analysis.

The research can potentially moderate some of the negative effects of habitat fragmentation and reduce risks of extinction caused by inbreeding and the loss of genetic diversity, according to scientists.

Marco Polo sheep mainly roam in the juncture areas on the Pamirs with an elevation of 3,500 to 5,000 metres in the region adjacent to the borders of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and China.

The sheep is named after Italian explorer Marco Polo, who discovered the argali in Xinjiang when he arrived in China traversing the Pamirs over 700 years ago.

Their habitats got divided into smaller, isolated patches due to factors ranging from global climate change to human activities over the past century.

Marco Polo sheep are under state protection in China, which led to the creation of the Taxkorgan wildlife nature reserve dedicated to the sheep’s protection in 1984.

The number of these sheep in China has grown to around 3,000, making up 15 per cent of the world’s total.