I have great respect for any animal that lives in mountains. Partly this is because I am afraid of heights, and the thought of animals that manage to traverse the steepest of slopes with little trouble amazes me. Also, when I think of mountains, I think of cold, barren peaks, places where animals would have difficulty surviving. There are, however, a fair number of animals that specialize in mountain-living, and today’s animal, the bharal, is one.
Bharals are a species of sheep who don’t just live in any old mountains; they choose to live in the most forbidding of mountain ranges, the Himalayas. They are mostly found on the Tibetan plateau, and range into India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan. Bharals can withstand a wide variety of weather extremes, from intense heat to bitter cold and vicious winds. They prefer cliffy areas and generally avoid forests.
Bharals get to be a moderate size, reaching maximum lengths of 165 cm, and heights of 91 cm. They have blue-grey fur, which helps them blend in with the mountain rocks. The legs and belly are white, separated from the upper grey fur by a dark stripe. Both sexes have horns, though the males’ are much longer and more curved.
Bharals spend most of their day grazing, finding the rugged grasses that make up most of their diet. When grasses are less available, the sheep will supplement their meals with shrubs and herbs. Bharals are most vulnerable to predators while they are grazing. Their primary defence is immobility; due to their colouring they blend into the surrounding rocks and are exceptionally difficult to find while frozen. If this strategy does not work, the bharals will flee onto nearby cliffs, and then freeze again.
Mating season in bharals usually occurs between November and February, depending on elevation. Gestation lasts four to five months, with one or two offspring being born in late spring. Both sexes reach sexual maturity at about two years, but males are not fully grown until they are five to seven years of age.
Mountains, especially the Himalayas, may be treacherous, difficult habitats, but bharals make it work. In fact, they’re doing quite well, as the population is not currently threatened. So I guess living in remote areas has its benefits.