Species, Description and Habits
The mouflon is the biggest animal of the Cyprus Fauna. Its former scientific name was Ovis orientalis orientalis. However, in recent years following long and in depth studies a new scientific name was given to it, Ovis gmelini ophion.
The Cyprus mouflon is a kind of wild sheep and is found only in Cyprus. Other kinds of mouflon can be found in various Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Syria, the island of Sardinia etc.
The mouflons are very shy and agile; they move very fast on the steep slopes of the Pafos forest and are very difficult to approach, especially when they are frightened. The mature male mouflon is a strong, well-built and beautiful animal. It has a thick and plentiful hide which in winter is of a light brown colour, with light grey on the back and an elongated black patch round the neck. In summer its hide 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. Its height is around one metre.
Its seasonal activity pattern is considerably variable. During summer, the animal is active in early morning and late afternoon, whereas in winter is active over the entire day.
During the summer, the mouflons live on the high mountains of the Pafos forest, like the Tripilos region. The Tripilos Mountains stand at 1.362 metres and overlook the Cedar valley. In winter, when the high peaks of the mountains are covered with snow, the mouflons come down to lower pastures in search of food. At times, when there is not enough food in the forest, the mouflons venture to move to the edge of the forest to search for food.
The same can happen during summer when available food is very scarce in the forest. During this season mouflon causes considerable damages to various agricultural crops.
In autumn, during the mating period, the mouflons form herds in groups of 10-20 male and female animals. In spring, however, when the delivery time is approaching, the herds are divided into small groups of two to three animals, or even one in the case of male mouflons which roam about alone.
The female mouflons give birth to either one or rarely two young ones in April or May. The newborns are very lively from the moment they are born so that they can face the many dangers that threaten them.
The History of the Mouflon
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 very well known during the Hellenistic-Roman period.
During the Middle Ages, in the documents of various visitors, the mouflon is also mentioned. The mouflon was generally referred to as “”ram” or “wildsheep” and in several cases it was included in the descriptions of the hunting expeditions organized by the aristocracy of that period. At that time the hunting of the mouflon was carried out with dogs.
The mouflon is an animal that loves the forest. It can be found in small herds in the Pafos forest which covers an area of 60.000 hectares with natural vegetation consisting mainly of pine trees (Pinus brutia), cedar trees (Cedrus brevifolia), golden oaks (Quercus alnifolia), Strawberry trees (Arbutus andrachne etc).
The mouflon feeds on various kinds of wild growth that flourish in the shady valleys of the forest. In summer, when the wild growth tends to wither, the mouflons wander out of the forest to look for food. It is during this time that the passers-by are able to see the mouflons in forests with low vegetation or in fields that are close to the forests.
Protection management of the mouflon
In 1878, when the island became a British colony, despite the fact that the number of mouflons had been reduced although they concentrated in the Pafos forest, their number was still quite high. Unfortunately, during the years that followed and due to the appearance of hunting guns it became much easier to kill the mouflons. The increase in the number of hunters and the non-existence of a suitable policy for the protection of the mouflon resulted in the drastic reduction of this animal in the Pafos forest. Until 1937, the only people who were worried about the decrease in the number of mouflons were the foresters.
In 1938, the hunting law was revised in order to provide a greater protection to the mouflon. Both the Forestry Department and the police were especially seconded for the protection of the mouflon against poaching. In 1939, the whole of the Pafos forest was declared as Game Protected Area for hunting, primarily for the protection of the mouflon. Later, with the declaration of the Cyprus Republic, additional measures were taken to protect the mouflon. A considerable part of the Pafos Forest has been declared as 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), whereas the whole area has been declared as “Special Protected Area”. Today, their number has 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.