A ram the size of a tiny pony flung its head into a luxurious enclosure lit by flashing disco lights, before lunging at several half-sized ewe lambs.
The agitated animal lives on a rooftop in Senegal’s capital Dakar with a dozen ewe lambs, in a cage equipped with ceiling fans, fake chandeliers and colorful lights.
The luxurious surroundings underscore owner Abdou Fatah Diop’s deep love for the breed of sheep known as Ladoum, which is native to the West African country.
“It’s passion. I forgot everything,” Diop said of his sheep, adding that he spends more money on them than on his family.
But the sheep remain the money spinners. Entrepreneur Diop, 40, sells the rams his gift ram contains to other Ladoum breeders looking to raise their flocks, for the equivalent of thousands.
Many are also enamored with sheep in the Muslim-majority country of Senegal, where there is a popular television program dedicated to the animal.
The most prized variety is the Ladoum: a downy breed with curved horns that can reach a height of 1.2 meters (4 feet) or more at the shoulders.
A wealthy elite also paid a small fortune for the majestic Ladoum ram to be sacrificed during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha – also called Tabaski – which starts next week.
Senegalese breeders have only developed this variety over the last 20 years, according to Diop, to accentuate the proportions and physical beauty of the sheep.
Abou Kane, another top breeder, has dozens of Ladoum tethered under a white awning in central Dakar to sell to Tabaski.
The client will pay up to 2 million CFA francs (3,000 euros, $3,600) for a sacrificial animal.
“This is an extraordinary breed that you can’t find anywhere else,” he said, praising the “splendid” sheep.
Slaughtering a flashy ram for Tabaski has become a status marker in Senegal.
But prices are way out of reach for many in the country, where about 40 percent live on less than $1.90 (1.70 euros) a day, according to the World Bank.
However, there is still pressure to buy good-looking sheep.
At Dakar’s largest ruminant market, herders in colorful robes stroll among the thousands of bleating sheep and goats.
Merchants from neighboring Mali and Mauritania have preceded Tabaski to serve the city’s customers.
The market makes a bustling trade during the festival period, according to its president Mamadou Talla, clearing about 150,000 euros ($180,000) a day in sales and supplying half of the 260,000 lamb consumed in Dakar.
Talla, 61, says competing for the best lamb is a unique phenomenon in Senegal and customers are very picky.
“Every Senegalese wants a big ram,” adds the 61-year-old, who can “confuse” neighbors and make the children happy.
Not all sheep are exorbitant. Talla says many go for 60,000 CFA francs (90 euros, $107), for example.
Several traders interviewed by AFP said that the maintenance and transportation costs justify the seemingly expensive price of ordinary Tabaski sheep.
For luxury animals, breeder Abou Kane argues that the rich have a religious obligation to choose the best animals.
“God requires us to make sacrifices,” he said. “You really don’t have to choose anything.”
Some argue that the pursuit of beauty in sheep has nothing to do with Tabaski.
El Hadji Mamadou Ndiaye, an imam at the Grand Mosque of Dakar, said the rules dictate that the sacrificial animal must be of a certain age, among other sizes, but does not specify the size or beauty of the animal.
Culture, as well as individual pride, plays a role in Tabaski’s huge sheep market, he suggests.
“If it’s not a crackpot, just follow the requested criteria,” said Ndiaye.