Ibex are wild goats that live in the mountainous regions of Europe, north central Asia and northern Africa. There are five species of ibex, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). They have long, curved horns and cloven hooves. Males have long beards. Ibex are related to antelopes, buffalo, bison, cattle, goats and sheep. About 8,000 to 10,000 years ago in southwest Asia and the Middle East, humans began domesticating wild goats. [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, July 23, 2014]

Ibex are found in the Alps, the Iberian peninsula and the mountains of Central Asia, the Caucasus, Arabia and North Africa. The generally inhabit montane pastures at an elevation of 2,300 to 3,700 meters but have been spotted as high as 6,700 meters (22,000 feet). They often are found in high, barren parts of the mountains, far from humans, which is one reason why there are still some left. The life span of ibex in the wild is about 17 years.[Source: Caroline Grodinsky and Michael Stüwe, Smithsonian ***]

Relatives of mountain goats, ibex were depicted in Ice Age paintings and immortalized as the zodiac sign Capricorn. People have hunted the ibex for thousands of years, providing them with meat to eat and hide for clothing. Over the centuries they have been intensively hunted in part because of the therapeutic properties attributed to various body parts. Folk remedies made from ibex horn and organs were some of the most sought after items in medieval pharmacies. The horns were injected for cramps and morning sickness and hot ibex blood was mixed with parsley to prevent bladder stones.***

The taxonomy of ibex, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) is: Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Chordata; Subphylum: Vertebrata; Class: Mammalia ; Order: Artiodactyla; Family: Bovidae; Genus: Capra

Of the eight species of goat, five are ibex: Capra ibex (Alpine ibex), Capra nubiana (Nubian ibex), Capra pyrenaica (Spanish ibex), Capra sibirica (Siberian ibex) and Capra walie (Walia ibex).

Sources: 1) San Diego Zoo: Goats; BBC Nature: Ibex; Dallas Zoo: Nubian ibex; University of Michigan: Siberian Ibex; Large Herbivore Network: Alpine Ibex; Rams: Facts About Male Bighorn Sheep.

Ibex Characteristics

Ibex stand 30 to 105 centimeters at the shoulder and are 1.2 to 1.7 meters in length, with a 10 to 20 centimeters tail, and weigh 30 to 150 kilograms. Males are a deep brown color, with a white patch on the rump in the summer. Females are lighter and tan in color. Both sexes grow thicker coats in the winter that vary in color. The coat is short but shaggy. Males have a beard at their chin. Both male and female ibex have very long horns, which are used for territorial defense and sexual selection. They curve backward, forming a semicircle, and have knobby rings on the outer curve. Rams have long scimitar-shaped horns that can reach a length of 150 centimeters. Female horns are thinner and curve slightly backwards, with a maximum length of 38 centimeters.

Ibex can jump more than 1.8 meters straight up without a running start. Ibex hooves expand and contract and have sharp edges and concave undersides that act like suction cups, allowing them to clasp on to footholds on cliffs. They have been seen descending down narrow canyons by jumping back and forth, 30 or so feet, from one cliff-like canyon wall to the other. Their thick fur helps them survive severe winters and their huge stomachs enable them get by on grass in the summer and pine needles in the winter, and little else. [Source: Caroline Grodinsky and Michael Stuwe, Smithsonian magazine]

Ibex are herbivores; they only eat vegetation, such as shrubs, bushes and grasses. Grazing accounts for a significant part of their eating habits. The low nutritional value of their diet means the ibex must spend much of the day eating. Alpine ibex have been observed climbing up the side of the Cingino Dam in the Italian Alps to lick salt and lichens from the stones. [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, July 23, 2014]

Ibex Behavior

Ibex are social and live in groups called herds. Females and their young generally form separate herds from males who form their own groups. The male herd is called a bachelor herd. Sometimes, males will wander without a herd. Female-offspring groups generally have 10 to 20 members. The two herds usually meet only during breeding season.

Ibex, chamois, sheep and goats have similar behavioral patterns. Ibex are diurnal. The best time to spot ibex is in the early morning and evening when the animals are feeding. During the heat of the afternoon they like to lie down.

In the spring ibex migrate to alpine pastures. In May and June the animals can be seen at the bottom of the valleys but as the snow melts they move higher up. In the autumn they descend to lower elevations and browse on buds and shoots.

Young ibex invite others to play by rearing up on their hind legs. Young animals ofteb play by knocking horns and thumping their bodies together. Later combat establishes social status. Ibex are sometimes killed by falls or falling rocks.

Ibex Breeding

Ibex males use scent to communicate with potential mates. Male ibex often approach potentially receptive female with horns back and tongue flicking (a peace gesture) and coaxes the female to turn around so he can sniff her rear for signs of estrus. An ibex expert told National Geographic, “he’ll taste her urine, breathing it in as one tests wine quality.” If his advances are tolerated “he’ll persist with chasing and mounting.” Nubian ibex males use their beards to spread a scent that draws in and excites females during breeding season.

During the December-January rutting (mating) season males engage in fierce battles to gain dominance and mating rights over female groups. Opponents rear up on their hind legs then lunge forward and crash heads and horns with intense, and sometimes loud force. The winners court the female in a process that can take around 30 minutes.

Alina Bradford wrote in in Live Science: “Once pregnant, females will have a gestation period of 147 to 180 days. She will give birth to one to three babies, called kids, at a time. Right after birth, a kid is very alert and can jump around. After four weeks, it is ready to join the other kids in the group. At four to six months, a kid is weaned. It will remain with its mother for at least a year. Females will go on to have their own young at 2 to 6 years of age. [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, July 23, 2014]

Ibex Range

In the early 1990s, about 22,000 ibex lived in the Alps and the mountains of Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, France and Germany, up from 14,000 ibexes living in 108 colonies in 1977. About 3,000 live in Gran Paradiso National Park in the Italian Alps, established in 1922 for their protection. Unfortunately they have become so numerous now that their colonies have to be culled from time to time, which has also meant the ibex are more fearful of humans than they once were and escape to places where tourist find them harder to see.

Alina Bradford wrote in in Live Science: “Ibex make their homes on cliffs that would be dangerous for predators. The Walia ibex can live at altitudes as high as 8,200 to 14,800 feet (2,500 to 4,500 m) in the cliffs of the Ethiopian highlands, according to the BBC. The Nubian ibex has a special way to deal with the hot, dry climates of the African and Arabian mountains: Their shiny coats reflect sunlight and keep them cool. [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, July 23, 2014]

Ibex Conservation

Alina Bradford wrote in in Live Science: “Most wild goat species are doing well, but two are facing extinction. The Nubian ibex is considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because its numbers are decreasing; it is estimated that there are fewer than 10,000 mature individuals. According to the IUCN, the Walia ibex is endangered, with only about 500 of their kind left. [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, July 23, 2014]

One species, the Pyrenean ibex, was declared extinct in 2000. However, it may not be gone forever. In 2009, Spanish biologists used frozen tissue to clone a Pyrenean ibex. The clone only lived for seven minutes, but scientists are hopeful that this cloned ibex will pave the way for the successful cloning of extinct animals.

Alpine Ibex

Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) are found in central Europe and northern Africa south to northern Ethiopia and in Asia east to Central China. They are mountain animals usually living at elevations up to 3,200 meters. Males stay up on the rock cliffs during the day, whereas females stay below in the rolling slopes and brushy areas. At night they all move down into the forest for the night to feed. The lifespan of an alpine ibex in the wild is about 10 – 18 years. In captivity the oldest know individual was 21 years and 3 months. [Source: John Sippl and Chris Yahnke, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan, animaldiversity.org ~]

According to Animal Diversity Web: Alpine ibex are sexually dimorphic. Males range from 65 to 105 centimeters in height at the shoulder and weigh about 80 - 100 kilograms. Shoulder heights in females are about 65 to 70 centimeters and weight varies from 30 to 50 kilograms. The length of an ibex is about 1.3 to 1.4 meters long with a tail length about 120 to 150 centimeters. Their coats are uniformly brown to gray, with thick beards. The underside of southern alpine ibex is lighter than the northern alpine ibex. Nubian (Capra nubiana) and Walia ibex (Capra walie) are smaller than alpine ibex. “ ~

Alpine Ibex Reproduction and Behavior

Alpine ibex breed once yearly. Mating occurs in late fall. According to Animal Diversity Web: The mating system is polygynous. Males compete in fighting competition to mate with a group of females. Males join the females in December after fierce battles with other males. The winner of the battle obtains the right to breed with group of 10 to 20 females. [Source: John Sippl and Chris Yahnke, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan, animaldiversity.org ~]

“ The gestation period for the ibex is approximately 147 to 180 days. A day after parturition, the young are able to walk on the rock cliffs following their mothers. The young are mature at 8 to 12 months, but don’t breed until two or three years of age. Ibex typically have one young per year, and more than one is uncommon. Females provide milk for their young, as do all mammalian females. The young are precocious, and are able to follow their mothers shortly after birth. ~

“Females live in social hierarchies that consist of 10 to 20 females in a herd with one dominant female. Males live in smaller herds of about 6 to 8, until the fall when the males rut. During this time males become solitary and are aggressive to other males. Some males live solitary all year long.” ~

Alpine Ibex Food, Predation and Conservation

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Foods commonly eaten include: grasses, forbs, leaves, shoots and bark. In the spring the animals migrate back into the mountains to new feeding areas. In the winter when the snow is deep and the weather is severe they migrate down to south facing slopes which have more food and less snow. These browsers and grazers become active in the afternoon and into the evening and feed through out the night in the forest, returning to the rock cliffs in the morning. [Source: John Sippl and Chris Yahnke, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan,~]

Ibex are herding animals which are subject to a wide variety predators. Eagles, bears, leopards and humans all play significant roles in regulating the ibex population. Known Predators: golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos); bears (Ursinae); wolves (Canis lupus); leopards (Panthera pardus); humans (Homo sapiens). ~

Alpine ibex have sustainable populations due to successful reintroduction programs. As a browser, this ibex probably influences the vegetational community, As a prey species, it is likely that the availablitliy of ibex affects the populations of predators. In addition to trophy hunting, there was a market for the parts of ibex believed useful in medicinal purposes. Ibex may compete with domestic goats (Capra hircus) for food and water. ~

Siberian Ibex

Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica) are found in various mountain ranges throughout central Asia, as far north as southern Siberia. There are multiple, distinct populations in Mongolia and China, and throughout the central Asian ranges to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Male Siberian ibexes can live up to 15 years, and females up to 17 years in the wild, though males generally live for eight to ten years . A female Siberian ibex has been reported to live over 22 years in captivity in a London Zoo. [Source: Jeffrey Williams and Link E. Olson, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan, animaldiversity.org ~]

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Throughout its range, C. sibirica inhabits rocky mountain zones, especially those containing steep slopes. The elevation inhabited by can range greatly due to seasonal weather conditions. There is also a large elevation difference between the mountain ranges they occupy. They inhabit mountain ranges from 500 meters to over 5000 meters above sea level. ~

“Capra sibirica is the largest member of the genus Capra. They are stout and thick, with short necks and large rib cages . Sexual dimorphism is pronounced within Siberian ibexes. This is evident in seasonal pelage, body size, weight, and horn dimensions. Body length of a mature male Siberian ibex can range from 130 to 165 cm, with a female maximum length averaging slightly longer than 135 cm. Height at the withers is 80 to 100 centimeters in males. Chest circumference ranges from 92 to 125 centimeters in males, and 74 to 89 centimeters in females. Ear and tail lengths are similar between sexes, with ear length from 14 to 16 centimeters and tail length from 10 to 18 cm. Mass is 80 to 100 kilograms in males and 30 to 40 kilograms in females. ~

“The bow-shaped horns of Siberian ibex are also the largest within the genus. The horns of males measure 100 to 148 centimeters . The maximum length of female horns is 37 to 38 centimeters . Horns of females are also much thinner than those of males. Similar to other ibexes, the anterior surface of Siberian ibex horns are segmented by transverse ridges. ~

“Significant variation in pelage color is one reason that Siberian ibex has be given more names than any other animal in the genus . Color variation can be attributed to size, age, sex, season, and specific range. Siberian ibexes share many common pelage characteristics with other members of Capra, such as light abdomens and a dark stripe running along the back, from the neck to the tail. Siberian ibexes have light yellowish undersides, becoming lighter around the groin . They have darker brown patches that can be found on parts of their head, shoulders, legs, chest, beard, and flanks (Fedosenko and Blank 2001, Heptner et al. 1988). The darker brown patches can vary greatly or even be absent on certain individuals completely. ~

Siberian Ibex Reproduction

Siberian ibexes breed once yearly. Mating generally occurs around November. According to Animal Diversity Web: “A breeding hierarchy between male Siberian ibexes is often established through fighting. Multiple aggressive tactics are used, including clashes of horns, with both males either facing each other or standing next to one another . According to Heptner et al. (1988), mortality is rare during such fights. [Source: Jeffrey Williams and Link E. Olson, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan, animaldiversity.org ~]

“Male Siberian ibexes begin courting females by approaching with a low-stretch pose . Males then sniff and lick the female before letting out a low scream, which causes the female to run away from the male . This can result in the female hitting the male with her horns, or urinating, which provokes the male to perform flehmen . According to Fedosenko and Blank, this courtship behavior lasts over 30 minutes. A pair must separate themselves from other animals for successful copulation to occur because of the heavy competition between males for access to females.~

“The timing of mating seasons for Siberian ibex varies between mountain ranges and is significantly affected by weather conditions. The mating season (rut) can start in October and extend into January, due to differences between ranges and weather conditions. According to Fedosenko and Blank, estrus lasts 20 days and an occasional second estrus can extend the duration of the rut. The rut generally starts when mature males migrate down in elevation to join female groups. Males generally don’t breed until they are five years old, when they can be competitive against other males. Females can breed as early as their second year . Mature males will establish and guard harems of five to fifteen females . ~

Siberian Ibex Offspring

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Gestation lasts 170 to 180 days, commonly resulting in the birth of one kid . In one study, only two of 56 pregnant, captured females bore twins . Though young Siberian ibexes can graze like adults within 1.5 months of birth, they have been known to suckle into December . Depending on when kids are weaned, they can suckle for the first five to eight months of life. [Source: Jeffrey Williams and Link E. Olson, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan, animaldiversity.org ~]

“Siberian ibex can have one or two offspring but generally have one. Weaning age ranges from five to eight months The average age at sexual or reproductive maturity for female is two years. The range age at sexual or reproductive maturity for males is a maximum of five years. Female Siberian ibexes leave their groups and yearlings for around a week before and after parturition and give birth in solitude . After birth the mother licks the neonate clean. A few days following birth, the newborn is often left alone to hide from predators. This length of time can vary depending on the ability of the young to handle the terrain . ~

“Young Siberian ibexes generally stay close to their mothers for protection, and bleat at signs of danger. Fedosenko and Blank (2001) report that young Siberian ibex may run to the closest adult females for protection in the presence of danger. Suckling decreases each month after birth, and can extend into December, though young continue to live with their mothers through the following year . ~

Siberian Ibex Behavior

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Siberian ibexes are generally found in herds. Herd sizes are often directly related to population size . The sex ratio of herds differs throughout the year. Females, yearlings, and young males commonly make up herds. Adult males can be found in small herds together. Adult males have also been known to live in solitude when not in rut. Larger herds, consisting of up to 40 individuals, can contain animals of all different ages and both sexes. [Source: Jeffrey Williams and Link E. Olson, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan, animaldiversity.org ~]

“Migration throughout the range of Siberian ibex is associated with snow accumulation in autumn. This is due to limited access to food during times of high snow levels. Siberian ibexes can migrate over 100 kilometers between seasons, while also changing up to 2000 meters in elevation . They reach food covered by 30 to 40 centimeters of snow by digging with their hooves . ~

“Siberian ibexes generally communicate for mating, predator alarm, and recognition. Females recognize their newborn through its scent during the first few days after birth, and rely on sight shortly thereafter . Females also call their young for feeding. Communication during the rut often includes physical posturing in which males perform flehmen. Flehmen behavior can be seen to some degree in many different mammalian orders. It is a common response displayed by males in response to female urine during the rut. Flehmen is generally initiated by a raise and curl of the upper lip, along with shutting the external nares. This allows access to the vomeronasal organ (VNO), which aids in chemoreception and determination of female estrus condition (Keverne 1999). ~

“Many ungulates use scent-urination around the time of the rut to communicate. According to Fedosenko and Blank, male Siberian ibexes use their mouths to masturbate during the rut. This is a common behavior for males in the genus Capra . There is controversy over whether or not the males are actually masturbating (ejaculating semen) or simply releasing urine when displaying this behavioral characteristic. Based on hundreds of observations of feral goats, Coblentz believes that what is commonly perceived as masturbation in these animals is actually urination due to the pressure, color, and amount of fluid exiting the penis. ~

Siberian Ibex Food Habits and Predation

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Siberian ibexes are generally diurnal herbivores. They feed nocturnally and eat some fruits, such as dogrose (Rosa) and currants (Ribes hispidulum). Daily activity is dominated by feeding and resting or ruminating. The amount of time for each varies with season. During seasons marked with shorter daylight hours, Siberian ibexes spend a greater part of the day feeding than resting. The amount of green food intake varies between sexes, with males eating up 16 kilograms a day and females 8 to 10 kilograms. [Source: Jeffrey Williams and Link E. Olson, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan, animaldiversity.org ~]

“Around 140 different plant species are known to be consumed by Siberian ibex . The species of plants they consume can differ throughout their range and with seasonal availability. Green grasses (Reogneria) are a significant part of the Siberian ibex diet in the spring and summer, along with grasses, shoots, stems, and leaves, which are eaten in autumn . Siberian ibexes favor south-facing slopes in winter because decreased snow depth leaves food more accessible. Needles and buds of trees are common food during the winter because of accessibility above the snow. Depending on the amount of water received through food, Siberian ibexes can go multiple days without water, and frequent salt licks throughout the year . ~

“Young Siberian ibexes can emit a bleat to signal danger, while adults give off a whistle. Though Siberian ibexs vocally signal to each other when a predator is near, their best weapon against predation is their ability to maneuver on steep, rocky terrain. The presence of a callus on the carpal joint aids in the ability of Siberian ibex to move up steep rocky slopes . They also have soft, elastic pads on their hooves, surrounded by a hard horny material, which increases traction . Siberian ibexes maintain close proximity to escape terrain. It was found by Fox that the Siberian ibexes always stayed within 350 meters of escape terrain. ~

“Hiding is the primary defense against predators during the first few days of a kid’s life. Siberian ibex kids can be preyed upon by golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), and hiding or staying close to adult animals are the main defense tactics. Snow leopards (Uncia uncia) prey on Siberian ibex more than any other predator . Snow leopards often take mature male Siberian ibexes because of their poor post-rut condition. Lynx (Lynx lynx), brown bears (Ursus arctos), and wolves (Canis lupus) also prey on Siberian ibex. Wolves are able to kill Siberian ibexes by stopping them before they reach their escape terrain . ~

Known Predators: snow leopards (Uncia uncia); Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx); golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos); brown bears (Ursus arctos); Asiatic wild dogs (Cuon alpinus); red foxes (Vulpes vulpes); wolverines (Gulo gulo). ~

Siberian Ibex Conservation and Ecosystem Roles

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Siberian ibexes can be a significant prey item for many species. Fedosenko and Blank found the remains of 30 Siberian ibexes over the course of a single snow leopard’s 14 kilometers hunt. Snow leopards are the most common predator of Capra sibirica. [Source: Jeffrey Williams and Link E. Olson, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan, animaldiversity.org ~]

“Siberian ibexes host many different species of ectoparasites and endoparasites. The presence of ectoparasites on Siberian ibexes creates a symbiotic relation with magpies (Pica pica), and other birds . These birds benefit from food that is supported on the body of Siberian ibex, while Siberian ibexes benefit from being groomed . ~

“Throughout their distribution, Siberian ibexes browse and graze, impacting vegetation communities. They pose little competition to other ungulates that occupy the same mountain ranges because range overlap is infrequent. ~

“Capra sibirica is mostly sought after by humans for its meat. The hides are used for a number of clothing items. Siberian ibex are also hunted for trophy purposes because of their large horns. Siberian ibexes pose little threat to humans, though they have been known to compete with domestic animals for food. ~

“According to IUCN/SSC, Siberian ibex populations are greater than 250,000 animals, and are considered to be at low risk on the 1996 IUCN Red List. Considering the Siberian ibex at low risk can be deceptive because the rate of habitat loss to livestock is increasing and habitats are becoming more easily accessible via motorized vehicles, increasing poaching (Shackleton 1997). Stringent hunting regulations and protected areas have been developed throughout the Siberian ibex range to protect populations.” ~

Bezoar Ibex

Bezoar ibex (Capra aegagrus aegagrus) are a vulnerable subspecies of wild goat and ancestor of domestic goats. They are 1.2 to 1.6 meters in length, with a six to eight centimeter tail and weigh 55 to 210 kilograms. They are found in varied habitats from arid scrub to alpine pastures up to elevation of 4,200 meters. Females are red-gray to yellow-brown. Adult males are bearded and silver gray with drank markings. Both sexes have horns. Males fight for dominance in their bachelor herd for access to females.

The bezoar goat, if not the sole progenitor of the modern domestic goat, was at least its main progenitor. The archaeological evidence traces goat domestication as far back as ca. 10,500 year Before Present and DNA evidence suggests 10,000 years BP. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The bezoar ibex (Capra aegagrus aegagrus) is native to Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Russia and Turkey. It has been extirpated from Lebanon. They were also introduced to the Florida Mountains of New Mexico. The bezoar goat is found in the mountains of Asia Minor and across the Middle East. It is also found on some Aegean Islands and in Crete where it is accepted that the goats constitute relict populations of very early domestic animals that were taken to the Mediterranean islands during the prehistoric period and now live as feral populations. +

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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