Urial are medium-sized wild sheep with large sickle-shaped horns; they are considered a close relative to the argali or Marco Polo sheep, but are smaller and are found at lower elevations. Urial face a number of very serious threats to their continuing survival. Because they are found in lower elevations, including mountain foothill regions, populations compete directly with livestock for seasonal grazing areas, and because of higher human densities in these lower elevations, indiscriminate hunting pressure has caused dramatic declines in urial numbers.
The Ladakh urial was once a common member of the fauna of northern Pakistan. Its range encompassed most of the Western Himalayas (Himalayan/Karakoram/Hindu Kush mountain region) on rolling slopes at middle elevations, from as low as 1,500 m to above treeline. Unfortunately, these elevations and habitats correspond to the region most heavily utilized by humans, and a combination of overhunting, disturbance, and competition with livestock has driven the subspecies to the brink of extinction.
The endangered Ladakh urial was thought to be extinct in the upper Indus region (Gilgit-Baltistan region) until WCS located a few scattered small herds about a decade ago. With continued and focused protection efforts aimed at these herds, local reports from rangers suggest the population is now over 70 animals, up from roughly 30-35 known to exist just a few years ago. WCS community rangers continue to monitor and protect this small population, and local communities have taken the urial’s preservation as a point of pride.