A ram the size of a little pony throws its head inside a lavish enclosure lit by flashing disco lights, before pouncing on sheep half the size.
The wayward animal lives on a rooftop in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, alongside a dozen sheep, in an enclosure with ceiling fans, fake chandeliers and multi-colored lighting.
The sumptuous environment underscores the owner Abdou Fatah Diop’s deep affection for the breed of sheep known as Ladoum, which originated in this West African country.
” It’s a passion. I forget everything, ”says Diop of his sheep, adding that he spends more money on them than on his family.
But sheep are still money spinners. Businessman Diop, 40, sells lambs from his prized ram to other Ladoum breeders who want to improve their herds, for the equivalent of thousands.
Many are also sheep lovers in the predominantly Muslim nation of Senegal, where there are popular TV shows devoted to the animal.
The most prized variety is the Ladoum: a smooth-haired breed with curved horns that can reach towering heights of 1.2 meters (4 feet) or more at the shoulder.
# photo1 A wealthy elite are also paying small fortunes for magnificent Ladum rams to sacrifice on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha – also known as Tabaski – which begins next week.
Senegalese breeders have only developed the variety in the past 20 years, according to Diop, to accentuate the proportions and physical beauty of the sheep.
Abu Kane, another prominent herder, has dozens of Ladoum tied up under a white tent in central Dakar for sale for Tabaski.
Its clients will pay up to 2 million CFA francs (3,000 euros, $ 3,600) for a sacrificial animal.
“This is an exceptional breed that cannot be found anywhere else,” he says, praising the “splendor” of the sheep.
– ‘Mystifying the neighbors’ –
Slaughtering flashy rams for Tabaski has become a status marker in Senegal.
But prices are out of reach for many in the country, where about 40% live on less than $ 1.90 (€ 1.70) a day, according to the World Bank.
# photo2 However, there is always pressure to buy a beautiful sheep.
In Dakar’s largest ruminant market, shepherds in colorful dresses stroll among thousands of bleating sheep and goats.
Traders from neighboring Mali and Mauritania edged out Tabaski to serve the town’s clientele.
The market rages during the festival period, according to its president Mamadou Talla, releasing around 150,000 euros ($ 180,000) per day in sales and providing half of the 260,000 sheep consumed in Dakar.
Talla, 61, said the competition for the most beautiful sheep is a uniquely Senegalese phenomenon and customers are picky.
“All Senegalese want a big ram,” added the 61-year-old, which can “mystify” the neighbors and make children happy.
Not all sheep are sky-high. Talla said many opt for 60,000 CFA francs (90 euros, $ 107), for example.
– ‘Crackpots’ –
Several traders interviewed by AFP said maintenance and transportation costs justified the apparently high price of regular Tabaski sheep.
For luxury animals, breeder Abu Kane argued that the wealthy have a religious obligation to choose the most beautiful animal.
“God demanded a sacrifice of us,” he said. “You really shouldn’t choose just anything.”
Some argue, however, that the pursuit of beauty in sheep has little to do with Tabaski.
El Hadji Mamadou Ndiaye, an imam at the Grand Mosque in Dakar, said the rules dictate that the sacrificial animal be of a certain age, among other measurements, but say nothing about an animal’s size or beauty.
Culture, as well as individual vanity, plays a role in the market for huge Tabaski sheep, he suggested.
“If you are not a nutcase, you are just following the criteria that are required,” Ndiaye said.
© 2021 AFP