The Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex) lives in rocky regions along the snowline above alpine forests of the European Alps. It is closely related to the Spanish Ibex (Capra pyrenaica) and the Middle Eastern Nubian Ibex (Capra ibex nubiana). Ibex are even-toed hoofed animals, also known as ‘cloven hoofed’.
All hoofed animals were once united in the order of ‘Ungulates’, however, they have been separated now between the even-toed and the odd-toed hoofed animals.
The Ibex is a species of wild mountain goat that have huge back-curving horns. The horns on a male ibex can grow to be 70 – 140 centimetres (28 – 55 inches) in length. Female horns are slightly shorter, thinner and curve slightly more backwards. Horns are used to defend themselves against predators.
An ibex grows to about 5 feet in length and stand around 3.5 feet at shoulder height and weigh around 270 pounds. The male ibex is commonly larger and heavier than the female. Ibexes have short, but not shaggy coats that vary in colour from reddish brown in the winter to brownish grey in the summer. The male ibex has a beard on his chin. Ibexes are remarkably sure-footed and agile which enables them to leap about rocky ledges.
Ibexes are found on craggy terrains between the timber and snow lines above the alpine forests of the European Alps. Ibexes tend to occupy steep, rocky habitats at elevations of between 6,500 – 15,000 feet (2,000 – 4,600 metres). The ibexes have a unique hoof structure making it an excellent climber on steep rocks.
Ibexes are herbivores and rely mainly on grass, flowers, twigs and moss to survive. Ibex also often stand on their hind legs to reach leaves and shoots from trees. They come down from their steep habitats during late afternoon and evenings to the alpine meadows below to feed. However, in the winter, ibexes tend to live at lower altitudes when food is more scarce. During the summer, ibexes need to drink water every other day and therefore seek regions where there is a dependable water source.
Ibexes are diurnal and live in bachelor groups in herds of 10 – 20 individuals. These male and female herds will only join together during the mating season.
Being able to climb to great heights is also an ibexes defence technique as very few predators can follow them to the steepest regions of their habitat. Ibexes predators include wolves, bears, foxes and lynxes. If ibexes sense danger, they raise up on their very strong hind legs and point their horns towards their predators. Small kids (young ibex) are also susceptible to attacks from large predatory birds such as eagles.
The ibexes receives help with their grooming habits from birds called Gackles who peck parasites from their coats.
Like most goats, the ibex sprays itself with its own urine which gives it a strong body odour.
Breeding season for the ibex begins in late autumn when the male enters into what is known as ‘the rut’. At this time, males will separate from their bachelor herds and go their own way to seek out a female herd. During breeding season, fight rituals occur between males in order to determine who is entitled to breed with available females. Physical damage is rare during the rituals despite the males having large, heavy horns.
The gestation period of the female ibex is around 6 months (150 – 180 days) after which a single kid is born (twins rarely occur), usually during the month of May. Ibexes can live up to 20 years.
Ibex Conservation Status
By the beginning of the 19th century the Ibex was practically extinct, being hunted for its supposed mystical qualities. After 150 years of extensive protection the numbers in the wild are not now under threat of extinction. Over 3000 Alpine ibexes now live in the Gran Paradiso National Park, established in the Italian Alps in 1922 for it’s protection. About 5000 Alpine ibexes live in other parts of the Alps. Other ibexes that are threatened with extinction are the Ethiopian Ibex and the Spanish Ibex of the Iberian Peninsula.