Mountain Monarchs

WCS Senior Scientist Dr. George Schaller described the wild goats and sheep of Asia as "Mountain Monarchs" in the 1970s. The Mountain Monarchs are endemic to – and thus help define – the huge mountain ranges of Asia, including the Himalayas, Karakorams, Hindu Kush, Pamirs, Tien Shans, and Altais. These species include the ibex, markhor, urial, blue sheep, and argali (e.g. Marco Polo sheep).   

Peste des petits ruminants (PPR) and contagious caprine pleuropneumonia (CCPP) are highly contagious animal diseases affecting small ruminants, especially goats. CCPP is a cause of major economic losses in Africa and Asia; it has a dramatic mortality rate of 60-80% for infected populations. PPR can infect up to 90 percent of an animal herd, and the disease kills anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of infected animals. PPR’s emergence is causing economic losses that are estimated up to US$2.1 billion annually.

Outbreaks of these diseases can have devastating impacts on wild caprids: the mortality rates in an outbreak of wild goats and Nubian ibex in 2006 were 82% and 58%, respectively. An outbreak of mycoplasmosis in 2010 killed at least 64 markhor in Tajikistan, which was nearly 20% of the country’s estimated markhor population at the time.


Wild sheep and goat species in Central Asia often now live in relatively small populations in widely separated mountain ranges in the region. This creates the potential for outbreaks to cause local extinctions of these species. The results can have further impacts across the ecosystem – for example on snow leopards, who prey primarily on these wild sheep and goats and may themselves suffer declines, while also being forced to switch to domestic livestock, increasing human-predator conflict and further impacting livelihoods.

WCS has been active in implementing health projects in the region aimed at protecting wild sheep and goats against the threat of livestock-influenced disease. This includes over a decade of work in the mountains of Afghanistan, and projects in Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Iran.

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