There are 6 species of wild
sheep which could have given origin to the domestic
breeds: Argali ( Ovis ammon), the Urial ( O.
orientalis), the mouflon ( O. musimon) and the Bighorn
(O. Canadensis). The sheep of the indigenous people of
southern Africa consist of fat-tailed breeds. They are
characterized by their extreme hardiness and their
ability to survive severe droughts. They are well
adapted to utilize indigenous vegetation and to cope
with unimproved management systems (Maree & Casey 1993:
9). Sheep may be classified according to uses: wool,
meat, milk or dual purpose animals. Most sheep are dual
purpose. Woollen sheep were only introduced in South
Africa following the settlement of the Europeans in the
middle of the 17th century (Maree & Casey 1993: 9).
The Zoo has Bapedi and Zulu sheep.
They originated from Limpopo,
south of the Soutpansberg Mountains. They arrived in
South Africa between 200 and 400 AD with Bapedi people
who migrated southwards through Africa. The colour of
the sheep varies, but the most common colour is white
with a red-brown head. The fat tail is usually long and
varies in shape. They are tolerant of ticks and
tick-borne diseases. They are extremely hardy and
heat-tolerant. The fat tail is good for processed meat
products. They have tasty tender meat and quality skin
and have good fertility and mothering abilities.
They are from Zululand
and Swaziland. They are indigenous to Africa and
migrated to South Africa with the Nguni people between
200 and 400 AD. They were used as a source of income,
food and for rituals. Zulu people believed that the
animal fat helped with cleansing and the home will be
peaceful if a sheep was used during a cleansing
ceremony. They are extremely hardy � can go without
water for a few days and tolerate temperature extremes
due to their peculiar fleece. Their colour varies
greatly. They can walk long distances and have a strong
flocking instinct. They are highly resistant to
parasites, tick-bone diseases and other sheep diseases.
It is thought that a scent from the special gland on
their feet repels ticks and other parasites. No other
sheep have this. They are alert, quite intelligent and
do not panic like other breeds. They can give birth at
any time of year.
Their population started
dwindling with the arrival of other species from
overseas, as they started mating with the other species,
their bloodline and genetic diversity started to be
affected. Slowly they became mixed breeds and Zulu sheep
are now classified as endangered.
The Zoo started
getting involved in a cooperative breeding program in
2007. This was an attempt to increase sheep population
and has since bred a number of lambs which were sent to
other institutions such as Monte Casino and Sun City.
The zoo currently has 17 sheep, consisting of 10 ewes
and 7 rams. They live in flocks and breeding is
throughout the year with a single lamb born at a time.
Twins are common with matured ewes. Ewes become pregnant
at the age of 1, whilst rams can be sexually matured at
six months. Their gestation is approximately 150 days.
The ewe looks after their offspring, which suckle for
about 4 months.