Alpine Ibex

Alpine Ibex

Steinbock, Bouquetin

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Family
Subfamily
Genus
SPECIES
Capra ibex
Population size
53,000
Life Span
10-21 yrs
WEIGHT
17-117 kg
HEIGHT
73-101 cm
LENGTH
121-171 cm

The Alpine or Capra ibex is a species of wild goat that lives in the European Alps. Alpine ibex have big horns, curved backward. Horns of females are a little shorter, subtler, and more curved, serving as a mean of self-defense against predators. Usually, males are bigger in size and heavier than females. Another distinctive feature of the male ibex is the beard on its chin. The coat of these animals is short and smooth, having different colors, depending on the season of the year: in winter they are covered with a reddish-brown coat while in summer their coats become brownish grey.

Distribution

Alpine ibex are now found in most or all of the Italian and French alpine ranges, southern Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Their preferred habitat is the rocky region along the snow line above alpine forests, where they occupy steep, rough terrain. Alpine ibex are typically absent from woodland areas, although adult males in densely populated areas may stay in larch and mixed larch-spruce woodland if no snow has fallen. Males spend the winter in coniferous forests. For most of the year, males and females occupy different habitats. Females rely on steep terrain more so than males. Males use lowland meadows during the spring, which is when snow melts and green grass appears. They then climb to alpine meadows during the summer. When winter arrives, both sexes move to steep, rocky slopes that amass little snow. They also use small caves and overhangs for shelter.

Alpine Ibex habitat map

Geography

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Ibex are highly sociable and communicative animals. Females live within a hierarchy system that implies 1 dominant male and 10 to 20 females in each herd. Males live in herds as well, having their own hierarchy system. As a general rule, male herds are notably smaller: from 6 to 8 males in each herd. In autumns they go rutting. At this period of their lives, males live in isolation and can be very aggressive. For ibex, periods of increased activity are sunrise and sunset while in the daytime they usually prefer staying in shadow. In winters, they stay at medium altitudes on sheer cliffs, facing southwards. With the coming of spring and summer approaching, ibex, together with the line of melted snow, climb up to the highest areas of their habitat. They stay there until autumn.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Ibex are herbivores (folivores, graminivores, and lignivores), which means, that they feed mainly on grasses, flowers, bushes, springs, and other plants of the habitat. In the summer season, demand for water increases, and ibex start looking for areas with a constant source of water.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
starts in late autumn
PREGNANCY DURATION
6 months
BABY CARRYING
1 kid
INDEPENDENT AGE
4-6 months
FEMALE NAME
doe, nanny
MALE NAME
buck, billy
BABY NAME
kid, billy

Alpine ibex are polygynous, i.e. one male can mate with a number of females. The animals start breeding in late autumn. Males take part in battles to decide who will mate the group of females: the winner is allowed to breed with 10 to 20 females. The period of gestation lasts about 6 months, a female giving birth to a single kid, usually in May. Youngsters are very active and as soon as they get out of their mother’s womb, they start jumping around. The kids join groups of other youngsters during the first month of their lives. After another 4-6 months they are weaned. The ibex reaches maturity at the age of 8 months - 1 year while starts breeding only at the age of 2 or 3 years.

Population

Population threats

In spite of currently not being threatened with extinction, in the past, the Alpine ibex attracted hunters for its majestic horns. Also, there was a common belief, that specific parts of its body might serve pharmaceutical purposes. Because of these reasons, people used to hunt them down to get a profit. Living in their habitat, Alpine ibex are in their element: the jagged cliffs and harsh weather conditions. Nevertheless, because of disease susceptibility and parasites as well as their babies facing the risk of being stolen and eaten by lynx or golden eagles, Alpine ibex start looking for larger grasslands, from snow lines to Alpine forests. Thus, they come too close to human settlements, sometimes being interbred with domestic goats. Another considerable threat for Alpine ibex is human intervention in the form of mountaineering or hiking.

Population number

IUCN does not consider Alpine ibex endangered or threatened with extinction. Moreover, the overall population is currently increasing, so in the Red List, it’s mentioned as of Least Concern. Nowadays, there are over 30.000 individuals of Alpine ibex: around 15.000 of these live in the Swiss Alps, about 9.700 - in the Italian Alps, 3.200 - in the Austrian Alps, 3.300 - in the French Alpine region. Other notable estimated populations are 250 individuals in Slovenia and 220 - in Germany.

Ecological niche

Being herbivores, Alpine ibex have a noticeable impact on the plant community, controlling its range. On the other hand, being a prey species, ibex control the population of predators in the habitat.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • A species of birds, called Grackles, help ibex get rid of parasites, grooming their coats.
  • In the 18th century there was a common belief in Europe that the Alpine ibex was a magical animal. The modern equivalent of this ‘magical animal’ is Capricorn, a mark of the zodiac.
  • Ibex are able to jump from one jagged cliff to another without any difficulty, passing through the most impassable and trackless places. They are very dexterous, being able to make 1.8 meters (6 feet) jump up without a running start.
  • The ibex has sharp-edged hooves. A hoof is concaved undersides and serves as reliable support, helping the animal to keep balance while jumping from one steep cliff to another.
  • Ibex do the impossible, climbing up the Cingino Dam (Piedmont, Italy) in order to lick salt and moss left on the stones by water.
  • On sunny days, Alpine ibex can often be seen napping on the rocks.

References

1. Alpine Ibex Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpine_ibex
2. Alpine Ibex on The IUCN Red List - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/42397/0

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