The Alpine or Capra ibex is a species of wild goat that live in European Alps. Alpine ibex has big horns, curved backwards. Horns of female ibexes are a little shorter, subtler and more curved, serving as a mean of self-defense against predators. Usually, males of Alpine ibexes are bigger in size and heavier than females. Another distinctive feature of male ibex is beard on its chin. Coat of the ibex is short and smooth, having different colors, depended on a season of year: in winter they are covered with reddish brown coat while in summer their coats become brownish grey.
At one time, Alpine ibex was restricted to Maurienne Valley in France and Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy. However, lately it was re-populated in European Alps. Nowadays, Alpine ibex can be found in French and Italian Alps as well as in Swiss, Austrian and German Alps. In addition to this, the Alpine ibex has also been populated into Slovenian and Bulgarian mountains. The major area of Alpine ibex habitat is rocky terrains and highlands, upward alpine forests while not reaching snow lines, at the height of 2.000 - 4.600 meters (6.500 - 15.000 feet) above sea level.
Ibexes are highly sociable and communicative animals. The ibex female lives 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 ibexes, 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 coming of spring and summer approaching, ibexes, together with the line of melted snow, climb up to the highest areas of their habitat. They stay there until autumn.
Ibexes are herbivores (folivores and lignivores), which means, that they feed mainly on grasses, flowers, bushes, sprigs and other plants of the habitat. In summer season, demand for water increases, and ibexes start looking for areas with a constant source of water.
Alpine ibexes are polygynous, i.e. one male can mate with a number of females. Ibexes 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. Period of gestation lasts about 6 months, a female giving birth to a single baby, usually in May. Youngsters are very active and as soon as they get out of mother’s womb, they start jumping around. Babies join groups of other youngsters during first month of their lives. After another 4-6 months babies 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.
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 ibexes are in their element: the jagged cliffs and harsh weather conditions. Nevertheless, because of disease susceptibility and parasites as well as their babies facing risk of being stolen and eaten by lynx or golden eagles, Alpine ibexes 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.
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 Swiss Alps, about 9.700 - in Italian Alps, 3.200 - in Austrian Alps, 3.300 - in French Alpine region. Other notable estimated populations are: 250 individuals in Slovenia and 220 - in Germany.
Being herbivores, Alpine ibexes have noticeable impact on plant community, controlling its range. On the other hand, being a prey species, ibexes control population of predators in the habitat.