Κύπρος αγρινό πρόβατα, pronounced Kýpros agrinó próvata, is a strain of mouflon sheep particular to Cyprus. It is worth knowing about this sheep and its mouflon cousins, as these are the precursors to all our modern domesticated breeds. Unlike domesticated sheep, wild mouflon have a hide rather than wool, and do not require shearing. However, as distant ancestors of our modern flocks they are an ancient chapter in the long story of wool, being closest to the primitive breeds like Soay, Boreray, Shetland etc. As Deb Robson writes in The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook;

The Mouflon is the wild sheep from which domesticated sheep were developed around 9,000 years ago. The Northern European Short-Tailed breeds are generally primitive breeds, meaning they retain characteristics similar to those of their wild progenitors.

This short video features some footage of the Cyprus mouflon. There are English subtitles and the description of how fleet of foot and easily startled these sheep are definitely rings true with team Wovember’s experience of the Northern European Short-Tailed breeds; it is wonderful to see their forebears here.

From the this website:

The Cyprus mouflon

The mouflon is the biggest animal of the Cyprus Fauna. It is a kind of wild sheep found only in Cyprus.

The Cyprus mouflons are shy and agile; they move very fast on the steep slopes of the Paphos forest and are difficult to approach, especially when frightened. The mature male mouflon is strong and well-built. He has a thick and plentiful hide. In winter this is of a light brown colour, with light grey on the back and an elongated black patch round the neck. In summer it becomes short and smooth, with a uniform brown colour and white underparts.

The male mouflons have heavy horns in the shape of a sickle. The length of the horns of the mature animals is between 55 and 60 centimetres. The weight of the male is around 35 kilos while the female weighs around 25 kilos. The Cyprus mouflon is around one metre tall.

History

There is enough evidence to prove that in the past, at least in all the mountainous and semi-mountainous regions of the island, mouflons existed in abundance. In excavated mosaics it appears that the mouflon was well known during the Hellenistic-Roman period.

Mural detail from the House of Dionysus, Paphos Archaeological Park. Photo found in Wiki Commons and attributable to Wolfgang Sauber.
Mural detail from the House of Dionysus, Paphos Archaeological Park. Photo found in Wiki Commons and attributable to Wolfgang Sauber.

Habitat & Seasons

In spring when delivery time is approaching, the herds divide into small groups of two to three animals, apart from the male mouflons, which roam about alone. The female mouflons give birth to either one or rarely two youngsters in April or May and the newborns are very lively from the moment they are born in order to face any dangers or threats.

During the summer, the mouflons live in small herds on the high mountains of the Paphos forest which covers an area of 60.000 hectares and consists mainly of pine trees, cedar trees, golden oaks and Strawberry trees. The mouflon forage in early morning and late afternoon and when the wild growth begins to wither, they wander out of the forest to look for food. At this time passers-by may glimpse the mouflons in low vegetation areas or in fields adjacent to the forests in which point mouflons cause considerable damages to agricultural crops.

In autumn, during the mating period, the mouflons form herds in mixed male and female groups of 10-20.

In winter, when the high peaks of the mountains are covered with snow, the mouflons are active over the entire day, coming down from the mountains to lower pastures in search of food.

Cyprus wild mouflon – photo found in Wiki Commons and attributable to Smichael21
Cyprus wild mouflon – photo found in Wiki Commons and attributable to Smichael21

Protection management of the mouflon

In 1878, when the island became a British colony, the number of Cyprus mouflons in the Paphos forest was still quite high. Unfortunately, during the following years and due to an abundance of hunting guns and an absence of protective laws, it became much easier to kill the mouflons. This drastically reduced the numbers of this animal in the Paphos forest. Until 1937, the only people concerned about this decrease in mouflon numbers were the foresters.

In 1938, the hunting law was revised in order to provide better protection of the mouflon. In 1939, the whole of the Paphos forest was declared a Game Protected Area for hunting. Later, with the declaration of the Cyprus Republic, additional measures were taken to protect the mouflon. A considerable part of the Paphos Forest has been declared as a Nature Reserve under the Forest Law. Additionally, the whole area will be included in the European network of protected areas, the “Natura 2000”. Four sites of the forest have been proposed as “Sites of Community Importance” (24.000ha), and the area as a whole has been declared a “Special Protected Area”. Today, mouflon numbers have increased to a satisfactory level and any danger of their disappearance has been eliminated.

The mouflon is an indispensable part of our natural heritage and one of the symbols of Cyprus.

The 1, 2 and 5c pieces of Cypriot euro coins all feature the Cyprus mouflon
The 1, 2 and 5c pieces of Cypriot euro coins all feature the Cyprus mouflon

As that description shows, the troubling human history of annexation and colonisation can have many consequences for wildlife. In a further twist to the tale of the Cyprus mouflon, a 2009 BBC news story describes how, in 1974, conflicts between invading Turkish troops and resident Greek Cypriots resulted in the creation of a kind of land-barrier. Sitting along this barrier is the sadly now deserted village of Variseia which, ironically, bordered on each side by human conflict, has become something of a haven for wildlife and, in particular, the Cyprus mouflon. The article is titled “Sheep rule defunct Cyprus village”:

“This area was originally called the green line because a soldier drew the line with a green marker pen on the map, but we’d like to show the world it is a green line because it’s a wildlife corridor,” remarks Nicolas Jarraud, an environmental officer from the local UN Development Programme… Mouflon, with their impressive set of horns, have flourished in the region. Some 300 are now estimated to be roaming through the divide, under the gaze of heavily armed Turkish Cypriot soldiers on one side, similarly armed Greek Cypriots on the other, and in the middle UN soldiers and scientists. “The Mouflon have benefitted from the buffer zone because it provides them with shelter from hunters and with habitat, which in other parts of the island has essentially disappeared,” notes Mr Jarraud.

We love this resourceful animal that has survived and continues to survive in spite of human conflict, and who has lent its wily instincts and sure-footed mountain ways to the more modern breeds whose wool we like so well. We hope you have enjoyed meeting the Cyprus mouflon too!

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