Introduction to Ibex

If you spot any wild mountain goat in Asia, Europe, or North-Eastern Africa, it can be an Ibex in all possibilities. They are easily distinguishable from normal goats found in plains by their body features. Moreover, these features also help us to discriminate between the male and female ibex. 


According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), there are five species of ibexes around the world. There are wild species of goats other than the wild ibex, which inhabits other parts of the world. These include the feral goat and markhor. However, it is also easy to distinguish them from the Ibex goat.


Although found in the wild, ibex got was constantly hunted for several reasons. However, several recovery programs are now being conducted to restore the Ibex population. It also finds a place in ancient history and will continue to be an important topic to study environmental harmony maintained by different animals in the mountains. 

What is Ibex?

An ibex is a wild species of mountain goat belonging to the genus Capra. It belongs to the Bovidae family and is named Artiodactyla. Several species of Ibex goat are distributed in the three continents- Europe, Asia, and Africa. The name ibex is obtained from the Latin word Iberian or Aquitanian. The Ibex meaning is akin to the Spanish word bull. They are mostly found in the wild, and domestication by humans has not yet been reported.

Size and Body Features of the Ibex Animal

Generally, the ibex animal grows to a height of 30 to 170 cm (1 to 5.5 feet) when measured from the withers to the hooves. The withers are the highest regions of the shoulders located at the base of the necks. The average weight of an ibex mountain goat is 30 to 120 kgs (65 to 265 pounds). 


Both the males and female ibex goats have longhorns. The males have longer recurved horns. These horns have ridges developed transversely in the front. The horns themselves can grow to a length of 1-5 feet. The ibex goat uses these horns for sexual selection and territorial defence. Both the males and females have cloven hooves. The males also have long beards. Based on body structure, ibexes are related to goats, sheep, cattle, bison, buffaloes, and antelopes.

Geographical Distribution of the Ibex Animal

As stated earlier, ibexes are mostly found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Depending on their geographical distribution, the different species of ibex are classified as:


Bezoar ibexBezoar ibex is found mostly in the eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia. The scientific name of it is Capra aegagrus aegagrus. They are considered to be the chief ancestor of the goat that we domesticate today.

  • Alpine Ibex

The ibexes found in the European Alps mountain are called the Alpine ibex. Their geographical location encompasses Switzerland, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia. The scientific name of this ibex is Capra ibex. They have also been introduced to the mountain regions in Canada, United States, and Argentina.


The Alpine ibex shows distinct sexual dimorphism. The adult males weigh around 220 pounds (100 kg) while the adult females weigh around 110 pounds (50 kg). The average height of a male Alpine ibex is about 90 cm, while the females are about 10 cm shorter (measured to the shoulders). Females have gray to brownish fur with dark underparts. 


The male Alpine ibex has beards, while the females do not. The horns of the males are large and semicircular. The horns also have broad, transverse ridges on the front surface. Both males and females prefer to live in separate herds at altitudes close to the snow line. However, they prefer to move to lower altitudes in winter. You might also find very old male ibexes living solitarily. 

  • Nubian Ibex

The Nubian ibexes are mainly found in the Middle east. They are a common sight in the Egypt highlands, and the Red Sea Hills found in Sudan. The scientific name of the Nubian ibex is Capra nubiana. They have long, slender horns compared to the Alpine ibex.

  • Walia Ibex

The Walia ibex is also known as the Ethiopian ibex. They are mainly found in the Simien Mountains located in the Ethiopian Highlands. The scientific name of the Walia ibex is Capra Walie. It is also considered a subspecies of the Alpine ibex. The Walia ibex population was subjected to heavy hunting, due to which it got the status of critically endangered. However, conservation programs have attained success in restoring the population from critically endangered to endangered status.


The great Axum empire of ancient days considered the Walia ibex as their national emblem.

  • Iberian Ibex

The Iberian ibex is also called the Spanish ibex. The scientific name of this ibex is Capra pyrenaica. Although it was previously found in southern France and the Pyrenees, now it is confined to only the Iberian peninsula located south of the Pyrenees. The Iberian ibex's current population size stands around 50,000. They are endangered, while two of their subspecies have become extinct. One of these extinct Iberian ibex, the Pyrenean ibex, was cloned in 2003. The other extinct ibex was once found in Portugal.

  • Caucasian Ibex

There are two types of Caucasian ibex- the West Caucasian ibex found in the western Caucasus and the East Caucasian ibex found in the eastern Caucasus. The scientific name of the West Caucasian ibex is Capra caucasica, while that of the East Caucasian ibex is Capra cylindricornis.

  • Asiatic Ibex

The Asiatic ibex is also called the Siberian ibex. The scientific name of the Asiatic ibex is Capra sibirica. They are mainly found in the mountains present in central Asian deserts. This includes the entire Hindukush mountain range (Afghanistan) to the Sayan Mountain range (Mongolia). 


These animals weigh around 60 kg on average and have a height of 80-100 cm when measured to the shoulders. Their coat is dark brown in colour with grey coloured underparts, with a dorsal stripe from the neck to the tail. These animals exhibit sexual dimorphism with distinctive features for both males and females. 


The adult male ibexes have scimitar-shaped horns with distinct ridges formed at the front. They also have long pointed beards. There is a grey saddle patch on the back of adult males. The females are smaller than the males. They have straight horns that are small in size. Moreover, the horns are widely separated at their base. 


These animals also show anti-predatory strategies. They occupy the higher elevations, around 3000 to 5300 m above sea level, to avoid predators. However, they are also found as low as 1000 m in the Altai mountains. Such preferences for height and rugged terrain are adaptive strategies to stay away from their predators.

Diet of the Ibex Animals

Ibexes are strictly herbivores. They mainly feed on alpine vegetation like bushes, shrubs, and grasses. Their eating habit is mainly grazing. Since these foods have low nutritional values, the ibexes have to spend most of the day grazing for food. However, ibexes have excellent jumping skills and can even climb trees to eat leaves.

Habitats and Habits

As stated earlier, ibexes live in places where their predators can reach. They prefer to live in high altitudes. They have special adaptations and behaviour to suit their habitats. For example, living in the Arabian and African mountains' dry, hot climate is a big challenge for the Nubian ibex. They have developed shiny coats that can reflect sunlight. As a result, they keep their body cool.

 

Ibexes exhibit social interactions by living in herds. They have separate herds for males and females. The male herd is also called the bachelor herd. The female herds comprise around 10 to 20 members and also keep the offspring with them. These two herds meet during their rutting or breeding season.

Breeding Amongst the Ibexes

The breeding season of the ibex is called the rutting season. During this season, most males fight amongst each other to exhibit sexual dominance. The winner gets the chance to court with the female for 30 minutes.

Moreover, they use a scent to attract their potential partners. For example, the Nubian ibex males use their beards to spread the scent that will excite the females during the breeding season. 


The gestation period for ibex females is around 147 to 180 days. Pregnant females can give birth to one to three babies at a time. The ibex offspring are called kids. These kids show tremendous caution to jump around in the first four weeks. After that period, they can join the other kids in the group. 


The kids are weaned at the age of four to six months. However, it can stay with their mother for one year. The female ibexes can have their own offspring at the age of two to six years. An ibex can live up to 17 years.

Conservation Status of the Ibexes

In history, ibexes were hunted down for meat, clothing, and essential medicinal purposes. The rapid hunting rate has brought the ibex population to an endangered and even extinct state. Several conservational programs have been aimed at saving the ibex population.


They have also started cloning techniques to bring back the extinct Pyrenean ibex. In 2009, Spanish scientists were successful in cloning one. However, the clone lived for only seven minutes. Nevertheless, such cloning procedures might pave the way to bring back other extinct animals. 

Conclusion

Ibexes are a species of wild goat found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. They live in higher altitudes and are strictly herbivores. They exhibit sexual dimorphism, both structurally as well as behaviorally. They were previously hunted for meat, clothing, and medicines. Several conservational programs are now carried out to save the ibex population.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What are the Similarities and differences in the Body Structure of the Ibex Male and Female?

Ans: Almost all species of ibex show sexual dimorphism. Sexual dimorphism is the phenomenon where males and females of a species have distinguishable characteristics. Male ibexes are much larger in size than female ibexes. They also have more weight than their female counterparts. The most striking feature about male ibexes is their long, almost semicircular horns with transverse ridges formed on the front surface. Females have short horns that are distinctly apart at their bases. Males also have a beard that females do not have.

2. What are the Sexual Behavioural Characteristics of the Ibex Population?

Ans: The ibex population shows discrimination in their herding patterns. Males and females stay in separate herds. The females keep the offspring with them. These two herds meet during the breeding season. The breeding season of ibexes is also called the rut. During this season, the males secrete a scent to attract the females. For example, the Nubian ibex males spread the scent with the help of their beards. Males also get involved in fights amongst each other to show their dominance. The winning male gets the chance to court with the female.

3. What are the Dietary Habits of the Ibexes?

Ans: All species of Ibexes are strictly herbivores. They mainly feed on grasses, shrubs, and herbs. However, they are excellent climbers. They can climb the branches of the tree to eat leaves. However, they ensure that the branches are strong enough to carry their weight. However, they mainly resort to grazing.


Since the nutritional value of grasses and small plants is not too high, they have to compensate for it by eating more food. This is the reason why ibexes devote a major part of the day to grazing.

4. Why do Ibexes Prefer High Altitudes?

Ans: Ibexes have two major means of escaping from their predators. They can jump to great heights. The males have longhorns to ward off predators. However, they also prefer to live in places where their predators cannot reach. Therefore, ibexes majorly prefer high altitudes. However, they also find difficulty in surviving cold, harsh climates. They generally come down to lower altitudes in winter. They have also developed several adaptations to cope up with the harsh climate. 

5. What is the Outcome of the Pyrenean Ibex Cloning Project?

Ans: The Pyrenean ibex was declared to be extinct in 2000. In 2009, a group of Spanish scientists was successful in cloning the Pyrenean ibex. However, the clone could live for just seven minutes. However, this experiment is considered a landmark in reviving other extinct species of animals in the future.