@legendaryscotland We don’t have any pressing coo news for you this Coosday, so we’re pretending it’s Ewesday instead so that we can tell you all about Soay sheep.
These brown shaggy lads and lasses are descended from the feral sheep of Soay, one of the islands in the St Kilda archipelago.
Soay’s name in Old Norse is Seyðoy, meaning Sheep Island, but nowadays the breed of the same name can be found on Hirta, the biggest St Kilda island.
107 Soay sheep were transported there by the Marquess of Bute in 1932, two years after the last human inhabitants were forced to abandon their homes and move to the mainland (we’ve written about St Kilda before – look for a black and white photo of islanders sitting outside their houses to read more).
The sheep on Hirta are part of an ongoing scientific study – the longest-running large mammal research project in the world, in fact.
There are around 1500 Soays on the island now, and as they are unmanaged and have no predators or competitors, they are of great interest to scientists researching evolution and population dynamics.
What they’ve found is that the population on Hirta increases and increases and then all of a sudden it sharply falls – sometimes by as much as two-thirds over the course of just a few months.
The sheep give researchers all kinds of fascinating stuff to mull over, informing their theories on everything from natural selection to ageing in wild animals and the effects of climate change.
The Soays on Hirta are a hardy bunch, surviving the harsh conditions that caused humans to flee.
They’re even self-shearing – they shed their fleeces all by themselves, and their wool is much sought-after by knitters.
You can see the Soays roaming free on Hirta – they do let people visit, even though it is most definitely their island now.
📸: Soay lamb image (cropped) by gemredding and Soay ram image (cropped) by Claritoneve, both via iStock.
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