Ancient Tibet Mountain Sheep Species Discovered

Posted on May 14, 2016

Protovis himalayensis ancient mountain sheep

Scientists have uncovered fossil evidence of an ancient species of ice age mountain sheep in Tibet. The ancient sheep were adapted to high-elevation, cold environments during the Pliocene.

Dr. Wang Xiaoming, a visiting professor of the the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and a senior curator of Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, says in a statement, "With the present discovery of a primitive sheep in the Himalaya, we thus offer another example of our previous out-of-Tibet hypothesis--ancestral sheep were adapted to high-elevation cold environments in the Pliocene, and during the Pleistocene they began to disperse outside their ancestral home range in Tibet to northern China, northern Siberia, and western Asia. The sheep thus joined several other mammals, such as big cats, arctic foxes, hypercarnivorous hunting dogs, and woolly rhinoceros in their expansion out of Tibet during the Ice Age and gave rise to elements of the Pleistocene megafauna."

The extinct sheep species has been named Protovis himalayensis. It had posterolaterally arched horncores like Ovis, a modern species of wild sheep. Protovis had a a total horncore upper curve length of 443 mm, which is similar to some extant Ovis species. Protovis likely ate C3 vegetation like modern sheep.

Protovis himalayensis horncorns


A research paper on the new sheep species has been published here in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Top Image: Art by Julie Selan and photo background by WANG Xiaoming
Second Image: WANG Xiaoming