The Markhor is one of the largest wild goats. Residing primarily in Afghanistan and the western Himalayas, it lives in mountainous regions at medium and high elevations, from 700 to 4000 meters, eating tussock grass in the summer and shrubby leaves and twigs on lower slopes in winter. Its reddish coat is short and smooth in the summer and gets longer and grayer in the winter. Males have a long beard and long hair on the throat, chest and shanks. Females have smaller fringes of long hair. Both sexes have horns which spiral upwards and are smaller on females and can reach a length of 1.6 meters among males but are generally only 25 centimeters among females. Markhor are 1.6 to 1.7 meters in length, with an eight to 14 centimeter tail and weigh 80 to 110 kilograms. Females are smaller than males.

According to the IUCN: This species is found in northeastern Afghanistan, northern India (southwest Jammu and Kashmir), northern and central Pakistan, southern Tajikistan, southwestern Turkmenistan, and southern Uzbekistan. The species was classed by the IUCN as Endangered until 2015 when it was down listed to Near Threatened, as their numbers have increased in recent years by an estimated 20 percent for last decade. [Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN Red List of Endangered Species]

The colloquial name is thought by some to be derived from the Persian word mar, meaning snake, and khor, meaning "eater", which is sometimes interpreted to either represent the species' ability to kill snakes, or as a reference to its corkscrewing horns, which are somewhat reminiscent of coiling snakes. According to folklore, the markhor has the ability to kill a snake and eat it. Thereafter, while chewing the cud, a foam-like substance comes out of its mouth which drops on the ground and dries. This foam-like substance is sought after by the local people, who believe it is useful in extracting snake poison from snake bitten wounds. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The markhor is also known as Shakhawat. The markhor is the national animal of Pakistan. Markhor marionettes are used in the Afghan puppet shows known as buz-baz. Local names: 1) Persian, Urdu and Kashmiri: markhor; 2) Pashto: margumay; 3) Ladaki: rache, rapoche (male) and rawache (female); 4) Burushaski: halden, haldin (male) and giri, giri Halden (female); 5) Shina: Boom Mayaro, (male) and Boom Mayari (female); 6) Brahui: rezkuh, matt (male) and hit, harat (female); 7) Baluchi: pachin, sara (male) and buzkuhi (female); 8) Wakhi: youksh, ghashh (male) and moch (female); 9) Khowar/Chitrali: Shara (male)& maxhegh (female). +

Markhor Characteristics and Behavior

Markhor stand 65 to 115 centimeters (26 to 45 inches) at the shoulder, 132 to 186 centimeters (52 to 73 inches) in length and weigh from 32 to 110 kilograms (71 to 243 pounds). They have the highest maximum shoulder height among the species in the genus Capra, but is surpassed in length and weight by the Siberian ibex. The coat is of a grizzled, light brown to black colour, and is smooth and short in summer, while growing longer and thicker in winter. The fur of the lower legs is black and white. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Markhor are sexually dimorphic, with males having longer hair on the chin, throat, chest and shanks. Females are redder in colour, with shorter hair, a short black beard, and are maneless. Both sexes have tightly curled, corkscrew-like horns, which close together at the head, but spread upwards toward the tips. The horns of males can grow up to 160 cm (63 inches) long, and up to 25 centimeters (10 inches) in females. The males have a pungent smell, which surpasses that of the domestic goat. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Markhor are generally loners. They are adept and climbing and jumping on rocky terrian. In the winter montsh it descends to lower elevations. They are diurnal, and are mainly active in the early morning and late afternoon. Their diets shift seasonally: in the spring and summer periods they graze, but turn to browsing in winter, sometimes standing on their hind legs to reach high branches. Their alarm call closely resembles the bleating of domestic goats. Early in the season the males and females may be found together on the open grassy patches and clear slopes among the forest. During the summer, the males remain in the forest, while the females generally climb to the highest rocky ridges above. +

Markhor Feeding and Reproduction

Markhor are adapted to mountainous terrain, and can be found between 600 and 3,600 meters in elevation. They typically inhabit scrub forests made up primarily of oaks (Quercus ilex), pines (Pinus gerardiana), and junipers (Juniperus macropoda). They alternate seasonally between grazing (summer) and browsing (winter), eating grasses and leaves.

According to the IUCN: “The species is typically found in areas with open woodlands, scrublands and light forests. In Pakistan and India these are made up primarily of Oaks (e.g. Quercus ilex), Pines (e.g. Pinus gerardiana), Junipers (e.g. Juniperus macropoda) and Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodora) as well as Spruce (Picea smithiana) and Fir (Abies spectabilis, A. pindrow) in certain areas. In Tajikistan the vegetation in the lower parts consists of open woodland and shrub communities with Pistachio (Pistacia vera), Redbud (Cercis griffithii) and Almond (Amygdalus bucharica); with increasing elevation Juniper Trees (Juniperus seravschanica), (J. semiglobosa), mixed with shrubs of Maple (Acer regelii, A. turkestanicum), Rose (Rosa kokanica), Honeysuckle (Lonicera nummulariifolia) and Cotoneaster spp.. Markhor rarely use the high mountain zone above the tree line.” [Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN Red List of Endangered Species]

Mating occurs in the winter. In the summer females gather in small groups with their newborn young. During the winter mating season, the males fight each other by lunging, locking horns and attempting to push each other off balance. The gestation period lasts 135–170 days, and usually results in the birth of one or two kids, though rarely three. Markhor live in flocks, usually numbering nine animals, composed of adult females and their young. Adult males are largely solitary. Adult females and kids comprise most of the markhor population, with adult females making up 32 percent of the population and kids making up 31 percent. Adult males comprise 19 percent, while subadults (males aged 2–3 years) make up 12 percent, and yearlings (females aged 12–24 months) make up 9 percent of the population. +

Markhor Subspecies

Currently, only three subspecies of markhor are recognised by the IUCN: Astor markhor (Capra falconeri falconeri), Bukharan markhor (Capra falconeri heptneri) and Kabul markhor (Capra falconeri megaceros).

Astor markhor (Capra falconeri falconeri) has large, flat horns, branching out very widely, and then going up nearly straight with only a half turn. It is synonymous with Capra falconeri cashmiriensis or pir punjal markhor, which has heavy, flat horns, twisted like a corkscrew. Within Afghanistan, the Astor markhor is limited to the east in the high and mountainous monsoon forests of Laghman and Nuristan. In India, this subspecies is restricted to a portion of the Pir Panjal range in southwestern Jammu and Kashmir. Throughout this range, Astor markhor populations are scattered, starting east of the Banihal Pass (50 kilometers from the Chenab River) on the Jammu-Srinagar highway westward to the disputed border with Pakistan. Recent surveys indicate it still occurs in catchments of the Limber and Lachipora Rivers in the Jhelum Valley Forest Division, and around Shupiyan to the south of Srinagar. [Source: Wikipedia +]

In Pakistan, the Astor markhor there is restricted to the Indus and its tributaries, as well as to the Kunar (Chitral) River and its tributaries. Along the Indus, it inhabits both banks from Jalkot (Kohistan District) upstream to near the Tungas village (Baltistan), with Gakuch being its western limit up the Gilgit River, Chalt up the Hunza River, and the Parishing Valley up the Astore River. It has been said to occur on the right side of the Yasin Valley (Gilgit District), though this is unconfirmed. The flare-horned markhor is also found around Chitral and the border areas with Afghanistan, where it inhabits a number of valleys along the Kunar River (Chitral District), from Arandu on the west bank and Drosh on the east bank, up to Shoghor along the Lutkho River, and as far as Barenis along the Mastuj River. The largest population is currently found in Chitral National Park in Pakistan. +

Although the Bukharan markhor formerly lived in most of the mountains stretching along the north banks of the Upper Amu Darya and the Pyanj Rivers from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan, two to three scattered populations now occur in a greatly reduced distribution. It is limited to the region between lower Pyanj and the Vakhsh Rivers near Kulyab in Tajikistan (about 70”E and 37’40’ to 38”N), and in the Kugitangtau Range in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (around 66’40’E and 37’30’N). This subspecies may possibly exist in the Darwaz Peninsula of northern Afghanistan near the border with Tajikistan. Before 1979, almost nothing was known of this subspecies or its distribution in Afghanistan, and no new information has been developed in Afghanistan since that time. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Kabul markhor (Capra falconeri megaceros) has horns with a slight corkscrew, as well as a twist. A junior synonym is Capra falconeri jerdoni. Until 1978, the Kabul markhor survived in Afghanistan only in the Kabul Gorge and the Kohe Safi area of Kapissa, and in some isolated pockets in between. It now lives the most inaccessible regions of its once wider range in the mountains of Kapissa and Kabul Provinces, after having been driven from its original habitat due to intensive hunting. In Pakistan, its present range consists only of small isolated areas in Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province and in Dera Ghazi Khan District (Punjab Province). The KPK Forest Department considered that the areas of Mardan and Sheikh Buddin were still inhabited by the subspecies. At least 100 animals are thought to live on the Pakistani side of the Safed Koh range (Districts of Kurram and Khyber). +

Range of the Astor Markhor

According to the IUCN: Capra falconeri falconeri Afghanistan: historically occurred in the eastern portion of the country, in the high mountainous, monsoon forests of Laghman (headwaters of Alingar and Alishang Rivers); Kunar and Nuristan (Habibi 1977, Petocz 1972, Petocz and Larsson 1977) and is still extant at least in south central Nuristan (WCS 2008, Stevens et al. 2011). [Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN Red List of Endangered Species ==]

India: restricted to part of the Pir Panjal range in southwestern Jammu and Kashmir (Ranjitsinh et al. 2005, Bhatnagar et al. 2007, Bhatnagar et al. 2009). Populations are scattered throughout this range, starting from just east of the Banihal pass (50 kilometers from the Chenab River) on the Jammu-Srinagar highway westward to the disputed border with Pakistan. Bhatnagar et al. 2009 observed Markhor only in Kajinag and Hirpura, and confirmed evidence of their occurrence in Boniyar and Poonch. In the areas of Shamsabari and Banihal Pass the taxon is likely extinct. ==

Pakistan: a detailed study on the past and present distribution of “Kashmir” Markhor by Arshad (2011) showed that the area of occupancy and the number of locations have declined greatly (approx. 70 percent) during the 20th century. However, historic ranges larger than present ranges are partly a result of too much generalization in the older distribution maps, which include large sections of unsuitable habitat. It is not clear to what extent exchange takes place between the often small groups of Markhor inhabiting different watersheds. Flare-horned Markhor are mainly confined to the Indus and its tributaries, as well as to the valleys of the Kunar (Chitral) river and its tributaries. According to Schaller and Khan (1975), along the Indus River, Markhor inhabited both banks from Jalkot (District Kohistan) upstream to near the Tungas village (District Baltistan), with Gakuch being its western limit on the Gilgit River, Chalt and (Haraspo) Sikandarabad on the Hunza River, and the Parishing Valley on the Astor River. Currently, Markhor are known from various locations in the Diamer, Astor, Gilgit and Baltistan Districts. Markhor are found along the Nagar Hunza River from Sikandarabad downstream, in Naltar Valley, along the Gilgit River downstream from Singul and along the Indus River downstream from Basho to the provincial border with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (WCS, Mayoor Khan pers. comm. 2014). ==

Markhor are known to be present in the Juglot Ghooro, Rahimabad and Haramosh valleys in Central Karakoram National Park (Athar A. Khan and Syed Yasir Abbas, Ecologist, Central Karakoram National Park, pers. comm. 2014). The population in Haramosh was considered extinct by Arshad (2011), but since winter 2011 Markhor have been observed there (Athar A. Khan and Syed Yasir Abbas, pers. comm. 2014), possibly indicating natural recolonization. The distribution range in Gilgit-Baltistan has been updated based on information from various sources (WCS, Mayoor Khan pers. comm. 2014). In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Flare-horned Markhor were found around Chitral and the border areas with Afghanistan where it inhabited valleys along the Kunar River (Chitral District), from Arandu on the west bank and Drosh on the east bank, up to Shoghor along the Lutkho River, and as far as Barenis along the Mastuj River (Schaller and Khan 1975). The distribution range in Chitral has been updated based on Arshad (2011), and includes side valleys of the Indus River upstream from Dubair, the Shishi River Valley as well as the Chitral River Valley and its tributaries upstream from Chitral up to Kaghozi Gol (Mastuj River Valley) and Shogore (Lutkho River Valley). ==

Range of the Bukharan Markhor

According to the IUCN: Capra falconeri heptneri: This subspecies previously occupied most of the mountains lying along the banks of the Upper Amu Darya and the Pyanj Rivers from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan. Currently, it is found in only two or three scattered populations and its distribution has been greatly reduced (Weinberg et al. 1997). The subspecies was confirmed to occur as well in Afghanistan on the bank of the Pyanj River (Moheb and Mostafawi 2011, 2012). [Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN Red List of Endangered Species ==]

Afghanistan: almost nothing was known of this subspecies or its distribution before 1979 (Habibi 1977). Reconnaissance surveys and interviews with villagers have shown that, across from the two strongholds of Markhor in Tajikistan, this subspecies exists but in very low numbers in the Darwaz Region (Kof Ab district, ~ 38̊02’ N, 70̊23’ E) of Badakhshan Province, and in Shahr-e Buzurg District and neighboring Chah Ab District of Takhar Province (~ 37̊31’ N, 70̊02’ E). The Markhor seem to cross the Pyanj River (which forms the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan; Moheb and Mostafawi 2011, 2012). ==

Tajikistan: limited to the region along the Pyanj River east of Kulyab, southern Hazratishoh range (~ 70̊05' E and 37̊54' N), including the Kushvariston massif (~ 70̊03' E, 37̊35' N) and the Pasi Parvor mountains (~ 70̊16' E, 37̊44' N), and the eastern slope of the southwestern edge of the Darvaz range (~ 70̊21' E, 38̊05' N, Shuroabad district of Khatlon Region and Darvaz district of GBAO Region). Formerly markhor were reported from the Babatag Mountains (~ 68̊03' E, 37̊46' N) at the border with Uzbekistan (Ishunin 1972) and from the Sanglak and Sarsarak Ranges (southern parts of the Vakhsh Range, ~ 69̊7' E, 38̊13' N) (Abdusalyamov 1988). No recent reliable information suggests that Markhor still exist in the Babatag (Michel et al. 2014). The presence of Markhor in the Sarsarak Range was confirmed in 2014, but the species has been extirpated from the Sanglak Mountains (Khalil Karimov, Panthera, pers. comm. 2014). ==

Uzbekistan: found in the Kugitang Range (~ 66̊36' E, 37̊48' N) at the border with Turkmenistan. Its occurrence was reported in the middle of the 20th century from the Babatag Range (~ 68̊03' E, 37̊46' N) at the border with Tajikistan (Bogdanov 1992). Turkmenistan: restricted to the western slope of the Kugitang Range (~ 66̊31' E, 37̊49' N), bordering Uzbekistan (~66̊40’ E, 37̊30’ N; Weinberg et al. 1997a). ==

Range of the Kabul Markhor

According to the IUCN: Capra falconeri megaceros: In Afghanistan, at least until 1978, this subspecies survived in the Kabul Gorge (Kabul Province) and the Kohe Safi area of Parwan Province, and possibly in some isolated pockets of Paktia Province. Intensive hunting pressure had forced it into the most inaccessible regions of its once wider range (Petocz et al. 1977, Valdez, 2008). No recent information is available on whether or not the subspecies is still extant in Afghanistan. [Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN Red List of Endangered Species ==]

In Pakistan, the most comprehensive study of the distribution and status of the Straight-horned Markhor was published by Schaller and Khan (1975). The study showed a huge past range for this subspecies, but the actual range in Pakistan at that time consisted only of small isolated areas in Baluchistan Province, a small area in the former Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), and one unconfirmed occurrence in Dera Ghazi Khan District (Punjab Province). Virk (1991) summarized the information for Baluchistan Province, and confirmed the subspecies’ presence in the area of the Koh-i-Sulaiman (Zhob District) and the Takatu hills (Quetta District), both according to Ahmad (1989). ==

The presence of Straight-horned Markhor in the Torghar hills of the Toba Kakar range (Zhob District) has been repeatedly confirmed and it is possible that currently this area holds the only population consisting of more than 100 individuals of this subspecies (Tareen 1990, Frisina and Tareen 2009, Arshad and Khan 2009). Qadir Shah et al. (2010) and Mazhar Liaqat (2013) confirmed the presence of straight-horned markhor in the Ziarat Mountains in Ziarat District of Baluchistan Province. The NWFP Forest Department (NWFP 1987, 1992) considered that the areas of Mardan and Sheikh Buddin were still inhabited by the subspecies. There is no recent information about the Safed Koh range (Kurram and Khyber Districts) where, according to Schaller and Khan (1975) probably at least 100 animals lived on the Pakistan side of the border with Afghanistan in the early 1970s. ==

Markhor and Goats

Certain authors have postulated that the markhor is the ancestor of some breeds of domestic goat. The Angora goat has been regarded by some as a direct descendant of the Central Asian Markhor. Charles Darwin postulated that modern goats arose from crossbreeding markhor with wild goats. Evidence for Markhors crossbreeding with domestic goats has been found. One study suggested that 35.7 percent of captive Markhors in the analysis (ranging from three different zoos) had mitochondrial DNA from domestic goats. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Other authors have put forth the possibility of markhor being the ancestor of some Egyptian goat breeds, due to their similar horns, though the lack of an anterior keel on the horns of the markhor belie any close relationship. The Changthangi domestic goat of Ladakh and Tibet may derive from the markhor. The Girgentana goat of Sicily is thought to have been bred from markhor, as is the Bilberry goat of Ireland. The Kashmiri feral herd of about 200 individuals on the Great Orme limestone headland of Wales are derived from a herd maintained at Windsor Great Park belonging to Queen Victoria. +

Fecal samples taken from Markhor and domestic goats indicate that there is a serious level of competition for food between the two species. The competition for food between herbivores is believed to have significantly reduced the standing crop of forage in the Himalaya-Karkoram-Hindukush ranges. Domestic livestock have an advantage over wild herbivores since the density of their herds often push their competitors out of the best grazing areas. Decreased forage availability has a negative effect on female fertility.

Markhor Predators and Threats

Humans are the primary predators on markhor. Because markhor inhabit very steep and inaccessible mountainous habitat, several strongholds of markhor populations have been rarely approached by man. Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) have been reported preying upon young markhor. Among the wild carnivores, Himalayan lynx (Felis lynx), leopard cats (Felis bengalensis), snow leopards (Panthera uncia), wolves (Canis lupus), and black bears (Ursus thibetanus) are the main predators of markhor. Because of these threats, the markhor possess keen eyesight and a strong sense of smell to detect nearby predators. Markhor are very aware of their surroundings and are on high alert for predators. They exhibit fast reaction and escape time to predators in exposed areas. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Markhor are potential prey for snow leopards, brown bears, lynx, jackals, and golden eagles. While not directly causing their endangerment, the already small population of markhor is threatened by the close existing predators. Hunting for meat as a means of subsistence or trade in wildlife parts adds to the growing problem for wildlife managers in many countries. +

Poaching, with its indirect impacts as disturbance, increasing fleeing distances and resulting reduction of effective habitat size, are by far the most important factors threatening the survival of the markhor population. The most important types of poachers seem to be local inhabitants, state border guards, the latter usually relying on local hunting guides, and Afghans, illegally crossing the border. Poaching causes the fragmentation of the population and distribution areas into small islands were the remaining subpopulations are prone to extinction. +

The markhor is a valued trophy hunting prize for its incredibly rare spiral horns which became a threat to their species. Trophy hunting is when rare species heads are hunted when the hunting is over the carcass is used as food. Foreign trophy hunters had a large demand for the markhor's impressively large horns as a trophy prize.

Markhor Hunting

In British India, markhor were considered to be among the most challenging game species, due to the danger involved in stalking and pursuing them in high, mountainous terrain. According to Arthur Brinckman, in his The Rifle in Cashmere, "a man who is a good walker will never wish for any finer sport than ibex or markhoor shooting". Elliot Roosevelt wrote of how he shot two markhor in 1881, his first on 8 July, his second in 1 August. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Although it is illegal to hunt markhor in Afghanistan, they have been traditionally hunted in Nuristan and Laghman, and this may have intensified during the War in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, hunting markhor is illegal. However, recently, as part of a conservation process, expensive hunting licenses are available from the Pakistani government which allow for the hunting of old markhors which are no longer good for breeding purposes. +

During the 1960s and 1970s the markhor was severely threatened by both foreign trophy hunters and influential Pakistanis. It was not until the 1970s that Pakistan adopted a conservation legislation and developed three types of protected areas. Unfortunately all the measures taken to save the markhor were improperly implemented. The continuing declines of markhor populations finally caught the international community and became a concern. +

In India, it is illegal to hunt Markhor but they are poached for food and for their horns, which are thought to have medicinal properties. Markhor have also been successfully introduced to private game ranches in Texas. Unlike the auodad, blackbuck, nilgai, ibex, and axis deer, however, markhor have not escaped in sufficient numbers to establish free-range wild populations in Texas. +

Markhor Conservation

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has classified the markhor as an endangered species, meaning it is in danger of facing extinction in the near future if conservation efforts are not maintained. There have been different estimates as to how many markhors exist but a global estimate put the number at less than 2,500 mature individuals. There are reservations in Tajikistan to protect the markhors. In 1973, two reservations were established. The Dashtijum Strict Reserve (also called the Zapovednik in Russian) offers markhor protect across 20,000 ha. The Dashtijum Reserve (called the Zakasnik in Russian) covers 53,000 ha. Though these reserves exist to protect and conserve the markhor population, the regulations are poorly enforced making poaching common as well as habitat destruction. [Source: Wikipedia +]

According to the IUCN: This species is assessed as Near Threatened: it nearly qualifies as Vulnerable under criterion as there are less than 10,000 mature individuals (estimated 5,808, based on our analysis of data from 2011-2013) and each subpopulation, except one, has less than 1,000 mature individuals. The largest subpopulation had an estimated 1,697 mature individuals in 2011. [Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN Red List of Endangered Species]

Although markhors still face ongoing threats, recent studies have shown considerable success with regards to the conservation approach. The approach began in the 1900s when a local hunter was convinced by a hunting tourist to stop poaching markhors. The local hunter established a conservancy that inspired two other local organizations called Morkhur and Muhofiz. The two organizations expect that their conversations will not only protect, but allow them to sustainability use the markhor species. This approach has been very effective compared to the protect lands that lack enforcement and security. In India, markhor is fully protected (Schedule I) species under Jammu and Kashmir’s Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1978. +

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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