Alpine ibex

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Alpine ibex
Alpensteinbock (Capra ibex) Zoo Salzburg 2014 h.jpg
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Caprinae
Genus: Capra
C. ibex
Binomial name
Capra ibex
Leefgebied alpensteenbok.JPG
Range map in the Alps

The Alpine ibex (Capra ibex), also known as the steinbock, bouquetin, or simply ibex, is a species of wild goat that lives in the mountains of the European Alps. It is a sexually dimorphic species: males are larger and carry longer, curved horns than females. Its coat colour is typically brownish grey. Alpine ibex tend to live in steep, rough terrain near the snow line. They are also social, although adult males and females segregate for most of the year, coming together only to mate. Four distinct groups exist; adult male groups, female-offspring groups, groups of young individuals, and mixed-sex groups.


During the breeding season, males fight for access to females, and use their long horns in agonistic behaviour. After being extirpated from most areas by the 19th century, the Alpine ibex was successfully reintroduced to parts of its historical range. All individuals living today descend from the stock in Gran Paradiso National Park in Aosta Valley and Piemonte (Italy), a national park created to help the ibex thrive. The ibex is the emblem of both the Gran Paradiso National Park, and the contiguous Vanoise National Park across the French border. The species is currently listed as of least concern by the IUCN, but went through a population bottleneck of less than 100 individuals during its near-extinction event. This has led to very low genetic diversity across populations.

Taxonomy and phylogeny

The Alpine ibex was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. It is classified in the genus Capra (Latin for "goat") with at least seven other species of wild goats. Both Capra and Ovis (sheep) descended from a goral-like animal from the Miocene and early Pliocene, whose fossils are found in Kenya, China, and Slovenia. The genus Tossunnoria appears in China during the late Miocene and appears to have been intermediate between gorals and goats. Fossils of Alpine ibex date back to the late Pleistocene, when the Spanish ibex and it probably evolved from the extinct Pleistocene species Capra camburgensis . [2] The Nubian (C. nubiana), walia (C. walie), and Siberian ibexes (C. sibirica) were previously considered to be subspecies of the Alpine ibex, giving populations in the Alps the trinomial of C. i. ibex. [3]


Video of a herd of Alpine ibex on Augstmatthorn in the Bernese Highlands, Switzerland

Compared with other members of its genus, the Alpine ibex has a short, broad head and a duller coat. It has brownish-grey hair over most of the body, a pale abdomen, and slightly darker markings on the chin and throat and in a stripe along the back. They moult twice a year, firstly in April or May, and then again in September, when they replace the short summer coat with thicker hair and a woolly undercoat. [2]

Males commonly grow to a height of 90 to 101 cm (35 to 40 in) at the withers, with a body length of 149 to 171 cm (59 to 67 in) and weigh from 67 to 117 kg (148 to 258 lb). Females are noticeably smaller, with a shoulder height of 73 to 84 cm (29 to 33 in), a body length of 121 to 141 cm (48 to 56 in), and a weight of 17 to 32 kg (37 to 71 lb). Both male and female Alpine ibex have large, backwards-curving horns with numerous ridges along their length. At 69 to 98 cm (27 to 39 in), those of the males are substantially larger than those of females, which reach only 18 to 35 cm (7.1 to 13.8 in) in length. [2]

Distribution and ecology

Ibex standing on cliff in winter AlpineIbex.jpg
Ibex standing on cliff in winter

The Alpine ibex was, at one point, restricted only to the Gran Paradiso National Park in northern Italy, and the contiguous Maurienne Valley in the French Alps [4] but it was reintroduced to most of the Alps. Reintroductions started in 1906 into Switzerland. Alpine ibex are now found in most or all of the Italian and French alpine ranges, southern Germany, Switzerland [5] and Austria. It has also been introduced to Bulgaria and Slovenia. [1]

An excellent climber, its preferred habitat is the rocky region along the snow line above alpine forests, where it occupies steep, rough terrain at elevations of 1,800 to 3,300 m (5,900 to 10,800 ft). [6] Alpine ibex are typically absent from woodland areas, [2] although adult males in densely populated areas may stay in larch and mixed larch-spruce woodland if no snow has fallen. [7] Males spend the winter in coniferous forests. [2] For most of the year, males and females occupy different habitats. [8] Females rely on steep terrain more so than males. [9] Males use lowland meadows during the spring, which is when snow melts and green grass appears. [9] They then climb to alpine meadows during the summer. [7] When winter arrives, both sexes move to steep, rocky slopes that amass little snow. [10] They prefer slopes of 30–45° and use small caves and overhangs for shelter. [11] Home ranges are highly variable, depending on the availability of resources, and vary in size throughout the year. Figures from 180 to 2,800 ha (0.69 to 10.81 sq mi) have been recorded. [2] [10] Home ranges tend to be largest during summer and autumn, smallest in winter, and intermediate in spring. [2] Female home ranges are usually smaller than those of males. Alpine ibex appear to have a low rate of predation and in Gran Paradiso typically die of age, starvation, or disease. [2]


Ibex on the wall of a dam Stambecchi sulla diga del Cingino.jpg
Ibex on the wall of a dam

Alpine ibex are strictly herbivorous, with over half of their diet consisting of grasses, and the remainder being a mixture of mosses, flowers, leaves, and twigs. [2] If leaves and shoots are out of reach, they often stand on their rear legs to reach this food. Grass genera that are the most commonly eaten are Agrostis , Avena , Calamagrostis , Festuca , Phleum , Poa , Sesleria , and Trisetum . [2] The climbing ability of the Alpine ibex is such that it has been observed standing on the sheer face of the Cingino Dam in Piedmont, Italy, where it licks the stonework to obtain mineral salts. [12]

Life history

Although the Alpine ibex is a social species, they segregate sexually and spatially depending on the season. [9] Four types of groups exist: Adult male groups, female-offspring groups, groups of young individuals 2–3 years old, and mixed-sex groups. [2] [13] Young groups are numerous at the beginning of summer, but are expelled by females at the end of their gestation period. Female and offspring groups occur year-round, at least in an area of the French Alps. [13] Mixed-sex groups of adult males and females occur during breeding, which lasts from December to January. By April and May, the adults separate. [13] The largest aggregations of either sex occur during June and July. Gatherings of males begin to decrease during October and November, and are lowest from the rut from December to March. [13] The males then leave their separate wintering areas and gather again. [14]

Male ibex locking horns Bouquetins combat.jpg
Male ibex locking horns

A linear dominance hierarchy exists among males. In small populations, which are more cohesive, males know their place in the hierarchy based on memories of past encounters, [2] while in mobile and large groups, where encounters with strangers are common, rank is based on horn size. [15] Antagonistic behavior in males can come in the form of "direct" or "indirect" aggression. With direct aggression, one male bumps another with his horns or places himself in front of his opponent. He stands on his hind legs and comes down on his opponent with his horns. This may signal that he is ready to clash or may be attempting a real clash. [2] Indirect aggression is mostly intimidation displays. [2]

Mother with young Alpine ibex Cima di Terrarossa 7.jpg
Mother with young

Reproduction and growth

The breeding season starts in December, and typically lasts around six weeks. During this time, male herds break up into smaller groups that search for females. The rut takes place in two phases. In the first phase, the male groups interact with the females that are all in oestrous. The higher the male's rank, the closer he can get to a female. [2] Males perform courtship displays. In the second phase of the rut, one male separates from his group to follow an individual female. He displays to her and guards her from other males. Before copulation, the female moves her tail and courtship becomes more intense. They copulate and then he rejoins his group and reverts to the first phase. [2] Gestation lasts around 167 days, and results in the birth of one or two kids, with twins making up about 20% of births. [16]

Alpine ibex reach sexual maturity at 18 months, but females do not reach their maximum body size for five to six years, and males not for 9–11 years. The horns grow throughout life, growing most rapidly during the second year of life, and thereafter by about 8 cm (3.1 in) a year, eventually slowing to half that rate once the animal reaches 10 years of age. Alpine ibex live for up to 19 years in the wild. [17]

Conservation status

Young Alpine ibex on a cliff Jeune bouquetin sur un rocher.jpg
Young Alpine ibex on a cliff

The Alpine ibex historically ranged through France, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Bavaria, Austria and Slovenia. Starting in the early 16th century and with firearms becoming common, the overall population declined due to overexploitation and poaching. The ibex became extirpated in Switzerland and Germany by the 18th century, and was extirpated in Austria and northeastern Italy by the 19th century. They remained only in and around the adjacent Gran Paradiso and Vanoise Massifs, then both part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Located in the western Italian Alps and the Maurienne valley in the north eastern French alps, bordering the Vanoise and Gran Paradiso Massif, the park was declared a royal hunting reserve in 1854 with the name of "Royal hunting reserve of Gran Paradiso" by Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy. [18]

Ibex were protected from poaching and their numbers increased, reaching 3,020 in 1914. The ibex enjoyed further protection when Gran Paradiso was made into a national park in 1922. Animals from this population naturally dispersed into surrounding regions. However, reintroductions have been the predominant source of new populations. Today, the total population of Alpine ibex is over 30,000 and is considered to be of Least Concern by the IUCN. However, Alpine ibex have low genetic diversity putting them at risk of inbreeding depression. [1] [19]

Related Research Articles

Caprinae Subfamily of mammals

The subfamily Caprinae is part of the ruminant family Bovidae, and consists of mostly medium-sized bovids. A member of this subfamily is called a caprine, or, more informally, a goat-antelope.

Ibex Type of mammal

An ibex is any of several species of wild goat , distinguished by the male's large recurved horns, which are transversely ridged in front. Ibex are found in Eurasia, North Africa, and East Africa. The name ibex comes from Latin, borrowed from Iberian or Aquitanian, akin to Old Spanish bezerro "bull", modern Spanish becerro "yearling". Ranging in height from 27 to 43 inches and weighing 200 to 270 pounds, ibex can live 20 years. Two closely related varieties of goats found in the wild are not usually called ibex: the markhor and the feral goat.

Gran Paradiso

The Gran Paradiso or Grand Paradis is a mountain in the Graian Alps in Italy, located between the Aosta Valley and Piedmont regions.

Nilgiri tahr Species of mammal

The Nilgiri tahr is an ungulate that is endemic to the Nilgiri Hills and the southern portion of the Western and Eastern Ghats in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India. It is the state animal of Tamil Nadu. Despite its local name, it is more closely related to the sheep of the genus Ovis than the ibex and wild goats of the genus Capra.

<i>Capra</i> (genus) Genus of mammals, the goats

Capra is a genus of mammals, the goats, composed of up to nine species, including the markhor and many species known as ibexes. The domestic goat is a domesticated species derived from the wild goat. Evidence of goat domestication dates back more than 8,500 years.

Markhor Species of mammal

The markhor is a large Capra species native to Central Asia, Karakoram and the Himalayas. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened since 2015.

Wild goat Species of mammal

The wild goat or common ibex is a wild goat species, inhabiting forests, shrublands and rocky areas ranging from Turkey and the Caucasus in the west to Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east. It has been listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List and is threatened by destruction and degradation of habitat.

Iberian ibex Species of wild goat endemic to the Iberian Peninsula

The Iberian ibex, also known as the Spanish ibex, Spanish wild goat, or Iberian wild goat, is a species of ibex endemic to the Iberian Peninsula. Four subspecies have been described; two are now extinct. The Portuguese subspecies became extinct in 1892, and the Pyrenean subspecies became extinct in 2000. A project to clone to the Pyrenean subspecies resulted in one clone being born alive in July 2003, making it the first taxon to become "un-extinct", although the clone died a few minutes after birth due to physical defects in its lungs, therefore remaining extinct.

East Caucasian tur Species of mammal

The East Caucasian tur, also known as the Daghestan tur, is a mountain-dwelling caprine found only in the eastern half of the Greater Caucasus mountains, in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and European Russia. The East Caucasian tur lives in rough mountainous terrain, where it eats mainly grasses and leaves, and is preyed upon by steppe wolves, lynxes, and possibly Syrian brown bears and Persian leopards. It is sometimes considered a subspecies of the West Caucasian tur, and sometimes as a full species in its own right. The species is listed as near threatened by the IUCN.

Nubian ibex Species of mammal

The Nubian ibex is a desert-dwelling goat species found in mountainous areas of northern and northeast Africa, and the Middle East. It was historically considered to be a subspecies of the Alpine ibex, but is now considered a distinct species. The wild population is estimated at 1,200 individuals.

Portuguese ibex

The Portuguese ibex is an extinct subspecies of Iberian ibex that inhabited the north mountainous zones of Portugal, Galicia, Asturias and western Cantabria. In size and colouration it was much like the Spanish animals, though inclining towards brown rather than black markings. Its horns were strikingly different from any of the other Iberian subspecies. They were only half the length of the Pyrenean ibex, but were almost twice as wide, and, consequently, much closer together at their base.

Gran Paradiso National Park Italian national park

Gran Paradiso National Park, is an Italian national park in the Graian Alps, between the Aosta Valley and Piedmont regions. The park is named after Gran Paradiso mountain, which is located in the park; it is contiguous with the French Vanoise National Park. The land the park encompasses was initially protected in order to protect the Alpine ibex from poachers, as it was a personal hunting ground for King Victor Emmanuel II, but now also protects other species.

Vanoise National Park French national park in Savoie

Vanoise National Park is a French national park between the Tarentaise and Maurienne valleys in the French Alps, containing the Vanoise massif. It was created in 1963 as the first national park in France.

Walia ibex Species of mammal

The walia ibex is an endangered species of ibex. It is sometimes considered a subspecies of the Alpine ibex. Threats against the species include habitat loss, poaching, and restricted range; only about 500 individuals survived in the mountains of Ethiopia, concentrated in the Semien Mountains, largely due to past poaching and habitat depletion. If the population were to increase, the surrounding mountain habitat would be sufficient to sustain only 2,000 ibex. The adult walia ibex's only known wild predator is the hyena. However, young ibex are often hunted by a variety of fox and cat species. The ibex are members of the goat family, and the walia ibex is the southernmost of today's ibexes. In the late 1990s, the walia ibex went from endangered to critically endangered due to the declining population. The walia ibex is also known as the Abyssinian ibex.

Siberian ibex Species of mammal

The Siberian ibex, also known as the Altai ibex or Gobi ibex, is a species of ibex that lives in central Asia. It has traditionally been treated as a subspecies of the Alpine ibex, and whether it is specifically distinct from other ibex is still not entirely clear. It is the longest and heaviest member of the genus Capra, though its shoulder height is surpassed by the markhor.

Bezoar ibex Subspecies of goat

The bezoar ibex is a wild goat subspecies that is native to the montane forested areas in the Caucasus and the Zagros Mountains.

Renzo Videsott was an Italian alpinist and conservationist.

Pyrenean ibex

The Pyrenean ibex, Aragonese and Spanish common name bucardo, Basque common name bukardo, Catalan common name herc and French common name bouquetin, was one of the four subspecies of the Iberian ibex or Iberian wild goat, a species endemic to the Pyrenees. Pyrenean ibex were most common in the Cantabrian Mountains, Southern France, and the northern Pyrenees. This species was common during the Holocene and Upper Pleistocene, during which their morphology, primarily some skulls, of the Pyrenean ibex was found to be larger than other Capra subspecies in southwestern Europe from the same time.

Evolution of domestic goats

Goat evolution is the process by which domestic goats came to exist through evolution by natural selection. Wild goats were one of the first species domesticated by modern humans, with the date of domestication generally considered to be 8,000 BCE. Domestic goats are medium-sized mammals which are found in noticeably harsh environments, particularly forest and mountains, in the Middle east and Central Asia, covering an area from Turkey to Turkmenistan. Goats are part of the family Bovidae, a broad and populous group which includes a variety of ruminants such as bison, cows and sheep. Bovids all share many traits, such as hooves and a herbivorous diet and all males, along with many females, have horns. Bovids began to diverge from deer and giraffids during the early Miocene epoch. The subfamily Caprinae, which includes goats, ibex and sheep, are considered to have diverged from the other bovidae as early as the late Miocene, with the group reaching its greatest diversity in the ice ages.

Alps conifer and mixed forests Ecoregion in Central Europe

The Alps conifer and mixed forests is a temperate broadleaf and mixed forests ecoregion in central Europe. It extends along the Alps mountains through portions of France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, and Slovenia. The ecoregion extends from the lower slopes of the Alps to its peaks, which include Mont Blanc, at 4,809 m (15,778 ft) the highest peak in the Alps.


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