Ovis ammon polii
Argali de Marco Polo (Sp), Marco Polo Argali (G), Argali de Marco Polo (F). Also called Pamir argali. Named for Marco Polo, 13th century Venetian merchant and explorer, who was the first Westerner to record its existence.
DESCRIPTION (male) Shoulder height 44-46 inches (112-117 cm). Weight up to 300 pounds (135 kg). Females are considerably smaller.
A large, long-legged, light-boned argali with the most spectacular horns of all the world's sheep. The summer coat is a light, speckled brown, with the face, chest, underparts, rump patch and legs white. In winter, the upper parts are a somewhat darker brown and there is a full white neck ruff extending to the brisket. The winter hair is much longer, making the animal appear larger and heavier than it is. The long, slender horns are homonymous, forming 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 open spirals, and triangular in cross section with a sharp orbital-nuchal edge. The longest sheep horn ever recorded (75 inches, or 190.5 cm) (Rowland Ward, 1895), is from a Marco Polo; however the largest circumference for this race is only 17 inches (43 cm), with 14 to 15-1/2 inches (36-39 cm) usual. Horns and skull together will weigh only about 25 pounds (11-12 kg), the horns' slimness making them seem longer than they actually are.
HABITAT More arid and barren than that of most other sheep ground. Usually at altitudes of 15,000-19,000 feet (4,600-5,800 m). Rarely below 10,000 feet (3,000 m).
DISTRIBUTION The eastern part of the Vakhan (or Wakhan) Corridor in Afghanistan; the Pamir Plateau in eastern Tajikistan; extending north into southeastern Kyrgyzstan south of the Naryn River; and the adjacent Pamir (Tagdumbash) region of far western China. Not reported in Pakistan recently, but in past years was known to cross from China into Hunza by the Kilik and Khunjerab passes. The northern limit for the Marco Polo argali is the Naryn River or approximately 41°30´N latitude.
TAXONOMIC NOTES Consists of two races, polii and humei, with polii Blyth, 1841 having priority. Humei, once considered a valid subspecies (Hume argali), was named for British naturalist A. O. Hume. It it similar to polii in body size and coloration, but its horns are shorter, heavier, and have less flare. Humei is found to the north of polii in southeastern Kyrgyzstan and far western China.
REMARKS "Of all the wild sheep of the world, there is none more widely known or better publicized than the (polii). Ever since Marco Polo made his epical journey to the silkened courts of Kublai Khan some seven hundred years ago the world has known of this wild sheep. (Marco Polo's) reports of this fabulous animal with its extraordinary horns were even beyond the imagination of the learned." (James L. Clark)
The Marco Polo is one of the finest wild sheep and is one of the world's very top hunting trophies. It lives at high altitudes that not all hunters can cope with; some have been stricken with pulmonary edema and have required evacuation. One should not attempt this hunt without a good level of cardiovascular fitness and a recent medical examination.