Namibia: Nguni Sheep an Endangered Breed

THE Nguni sheep migrated to South Africa with the Nguni people between 200 and 400AD down the eastern coast to the areas where they are found today.

The Iron Age people in their migration took several routes to the south. One group came down the east coast into Natal and then dispersed further south. This dispersal was limited by the growing conditions of their crops, such as millet, which could not be grown on the cold plateau of the Highveld.

These people brought sheep and cattle with them and it is these that are thought to be ancestors of the present Nguni breeds.


The Nguni sheep have a mixed appearance in that their tails can either be thin or fat, they have different colours and sizes and they can have a coat of either wool or hair. This variation seems to point to recently cross-bred sheep, but in fact is due to a broad ancestral gene pool.

This broad gene pool can give rise to a varied physical appearance but also supplies the genes necessary for the animals' adaptation to different and sometimes challenging conditions. The Nguni is a small to medium framed, multi-coloured fat-tailed sheep.

Generally, this breed has a black, brown or reddish brown coat that is sometimes pied.

They tend to be woollier than breeds such as the Pedi and Damara. Rams are horned or polled. The ears, which are short and narrow, are sometimes very small and are often referred to as mouse ears. The tail is fat, long and carrot shaped. However, some sheep have long thin tails that contain very little fat.

The carcass is regarded as a fat-tailed type. Meat of the Nguni breed is compact, savoury, flavourful and lean. The normal production environment is the hot humid coastal veld bush to hot dry bushveld. The numbers of this breed have declined rapidly due to replacement by imported breeds and to stock theft, that is prevalent in KwaZulu-Natal. In 1995, it was estimated that only 3 000 Nguni sheep were left in South Africa.

Today there are much less pure Nguni sheep left. It is therefore evident that this breed should be regarded as critically endangered and steps towards its protection and conservation should be taken as a priority.

presidium was founded in 2009.

The aim of this presidium is to preserve this ancient sheep breed, whose survival has been threatened by cross-breeding. The presidium wants to identify and unite the last remaining herders in the area, increase the sheep population, create an association for the safeguarding and promotion of this indigenous breed and draw up a protocol for its farming.

*This info-pack was compiled from various sources of information. The text may contain extracts from the following: Ramsay, K., Harris, L & Kotzé, A. 2001. Landrace breeds: South Africa's indigenous and locally developed farm animals. Farm Animal Conservation Trust, Pretoria. - Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute

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