The Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex) was at one time considered to include three subspecies: the Alpine Ibex (C. i. ibex), found in Switzerland, southern Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, northern Italy, and southeastern France and introduced to northwestern Slovenia and Bulgaria; the broadly distributed Siberian Ibex (C. i. sibirica), found mainly in China, Central Asia, and Mongolia; and the Nubian Ibex (C. i. nubiana), found in Egypt east of the Nile River, northeastern Sudan, Israel, western Jordan, Saudi Arabia, southwestern Oman, southeastern Yemen, and possibly Eritrea. These taxa are now generally treated as three full species (C. ibex, C. sibirica, and C. nubiana).
The Alpine Ibex occurs mainly at elevations of 1600 to 3200 m in alpine and subalpine habitats, but can use open forests in rocky terrain associated with ledges, cliffs, and precipitous valleys.
This species was on the verge of extinction in the 1800s, but a protected population remained in northern Italy and animals from this population were used to re-establish the species in the Alps of Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, and France. There are now over 22,000 animals in free-ranging populations and controlled hunting is allowed in Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Slovenia.
(Valdez 2011 and references therein)
- Valdez, R. 2011. Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex). Pp. 722-723 in: Wilson, D.E. and Mittermeier, R.A., eds. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 2. Hoofed Mammals. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
In Austria, all current populations originate from re-introductions, although not always into former or even suitable habitat. The first colony was re-established in 1924 in the Bluhnbach valley (Hagen mountains), and the second in 1936, farther east in Wildalpen, so that by 1988, ca. 740 ibex had been released (Bauer, 1991). By the 1990s, the species is now found in the Bhihnbach valley (Hagen mountains), in the Northern Limestone alps in Wildalpen, and in the Pitz and Kauner valleys of Tyrol, and in the Styria (Hochlantsch massif). In France, it is found mainly in the eastern part of the Alps. Four ibex populations had been re-established in Germany by the 1990s. The first introduction was made at Koenigsee (Berchtesgaden) in 1936 with 24 animals. The founding animals came from the Aosta valley (Italy), from Peter and Paul, and from the Berlin and Munich Zoological Gardens. The animals dispersed after a few years to the Austrian Bluebachtal. In 1951, the population was reduced considerably after an outbreak of sarcoptic mange, but since then numbers have increased slowly. The population straddles the German-Austrian border, wintering in Austria and summering in the Bavarian Alps in Germany. A second population was established at Jachenau, partly the result of immigration of one male from the Austrian colony at Baechental, supplemented by four animals from Swiss founder populations in 1967. After the addition of several more ibex, this population increased to about 100 animals by the 1990s; however, its range is very restricted and there is little potential for expansion. A small colony in Oberaudorf was the result of a re-introduction in 1963 which failed to disperse. It is now restricted to an area of about 100 ha, and foresters consider it a problem because of range over-use. Another small, restricted population became established through natural dispersal from Austria, but its size is unknown. Ibex were introduced into the Rila mountains of Bulgaria (Atlas of the Mammals of Bulgaria) in the mid-1980s. In Italy, re-introductions, combined with some spontaneous migration from adjoining countries (Peracino and Bassano, 1986; Tosi et al., 1986a), have increased areas with ibex, but its distribution is still rather discontinuous in the Alps.
Alpine ibex, Capra ibex, are found in central Europe south to northern Ethiopia and east to Central China.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); ethiopian (Native )
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press.
Alpine ibex are sexually dimorphic. Males range from 65 – 105 cm in height at the shoulder and weigh about 80 - 100 kg. Shoulder heights in females are about 65 – 70 cm and weight varies from 30 – 50 kg. The length of an ibex is about 1.3 – 1.4 m long with a tail length about 120 – 150 cm. Their coats are uniformly brown to gray, with thick beards. The underside of southern alpine ibex is lighter than the northern alpine ibex. Nubian (Capra nubiana) and Walia ibex (Capra walie) are smaller than alpine ibex.
Range mass: 65 to 100 kg.
Range length: 1.3 to 1.4 m.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; ornamentation
- Brownell, B. 1998. National Geographic Book of Mammals. Ohio: The National Geographic Society.
- Burton, M. 1980. The New Larousse Encyclopedia of Animal Life. New York: Bonaza Books.
Habitat and Ecology
Alpine ibex are mountain animals usually living at elevations up to 3,200 meters. Males stay up on the rock cliffs during the day, whereas females stay below in the rolling slopes and brushy areas. At night they will all move down into the forest for the night to feed.
Range elevation: 3200 (high) m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest ; mountains
- McGoldrick, J. 1997. Europe's King of the Mountain: Ibex. National Geographic World, 261: 15-22.
In the spring the animals migrate back into the mountains to new feeding areas. In the winter when the snow is deep and the weather is severe they migrate down to south facing slopes which have more food and less snow. These browsers and grazers become active in the afternoon and into the evening and feed through out the night in the forest, returning to the rock cliffs in the morning.
Foods commonly eaten include: grasses, forbs, leaves, shoots and bark.
Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Lignivore)
- Sanderson, I. 1967. Living Mammals of the World Edition III vol. II. New York: Doubleday and Company Inc..
As a browser, this ibex probably influences the vegetational community, As a prey species, it is likely that the availablitliy of ibex affects the populations of predators.
Ibex are herding animals which are subject to a wide variety predators. Eagles, bears, leopards and humans all play significant roles in regulating the ibex population.
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
The lifespan of an alpine ibex in the wild is about 10 – 18 years. In captivity the oldest know individual was 21 years and 3 months.
Status: captivity: 21.25 (high) years.
Status: wild: 10 to 18 years.
Status: captivity: 22.3 years.
- Jordan, E. 1969. Animal Atlas of the World. New Jersey: Hammond Incorporated.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The mating system is polygynous. Males compete in fighting competition to mate with a group of females.
Mating System: polygynous
Males join the females in December after fierce battles with other males. The winner of the battle obtains the right to breed with group of 10 – 20 females. The gestation period for the ibex is approximately 147 – 180 days. A day after parturition, the young are able to walk on the rock cliffs following their mothers. The young are mature at 8 – 12 months, but don’t breed until 2 or 3 years of age. Ibex typically have one young per year, and more than one is uncommon.
Breeding interval: Alpine ibex breed once yearly.
Breeding season: Mating occurs in late fall.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.
Average number of offspring: 1.11.
Range gestation period: 4.9 to 6 months.
Range weaning age: 3 to 12 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 10 (low) months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 10 (low) months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous
Average birth mass: 2850 g.
Average number of offspring: 1.1.
Females provide milk for their young, as do all mammalian females. The young are precocious, and are able to follow their mothers shortly after birth.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); post-independence association with parents
- Kohlmann, S., D. Muller, P. Alkon. 1996. Antipredator constraints on Nubian Ibexes. Journal of Mammalogy, 77: 1122-1131.
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Capra ibex
No available public DNA sequences.
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Capra ibex
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Alpine ibex have sustainable populations due to successful reintroduction programs.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
According to Shackleton (1997) and DuprÃ© et al. (2001), the main proposal for ibex conservation is to continue restocking populations in appropriate habitats. Reintroductions should also be carefully planned, e.g. by (1) Using environmental evaluation models for selecting areas for reintroducing ibex, in conjunction with (2) a conservation strategy that aims to make the separate colonies part of a single metapopulation; (3) Giving priority to protected areas, or to other areas capable of guaranteeing efficient surveillance against poaching and disturbance (although this does not mean that controlled hunting areas should be a priori excluded); (4) Selecting founder individuals for new colonies according to specific criteria; (5) Limiting domestic sheep and goat grazing in reintroduction areas to decrease the possibility of parasite and disease transmission, resource competition, and hybridization; and (6) Screeing reintroduction sites for suitability in relation to health and disease transmission.
Other conservation recommendations include ensuring that any harvest is sustainable (through research, legislation, and international cooperation), reducing poaching (through legislation, enforcement, education and communication), reducing the impacts of human disturbance (e.g. by providing refugia in areas with intense tourism), and monitoring all populations.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
Ibex may compete with domestic goats (Capra hircus) for food and water.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
In addition to trophy hunting, there was a market for the parts of ibex believed useful in medicinal purposes.
Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material; source of medicine or drug
The Alpine ibex (Capra ibex), also known as the steinbock, is a species of wild goat that lives in the mountains of the European Alps. It is a sexually dimorphic species with larger males who carry larger, curved horns. The coat colour is typically brownish grey. Alpine ibex tend to live in steep, rough terrain above 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-offsping 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 behaviours. After being extirpated from most areas by the 19th century, the Alpine ibex was reintroduced to parts of its historical range and all individuals living today descend from the stock in Gran Paradiso National Park in northwest Italy. The species is currently listed as of least concern by the IUCN.
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 goat. 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 it and the Spanish ibex probably evolved from the extinct Pleistocene species Capra camburgensis. The Nubian (C. nubiana), Walia (C. walie) and Siberian ibex (C. sibirica) are sometimes considered to be subspecies of the Alpine ibex, giving populations in the Alps the trinomial of C. i. ibex.
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. As with all goats, males have beards, while females do not.
Males commonly grow to a height of 90 to 101 centimetres (35 to 40 in) at the withers, with a body length of 149 to 171 centimetres (59 to 67 in) and weigh from 67 to 117 kilograms (150 to 260 lb). Females are noticeably smaller, with a shoulder height of 73 to 84 centimetres (29 to 33 in), a body length of 121 to 141 centimetres (48 to 56 in), and a weight of 17 to 32 kilograms (37 to 71 lb). Both male and female Alpine ibexes have large, backwards-curving, horns with numerous ridges along their length. At 69 to 98 centimetres (27 to 39 in), those of the males are substantially larger than those of females, which reach only 18 to 35 centimetres (7.1 to 14 in) in length.
Distribution and ecology
The Alpine ibex was, at one point, restricted only to the Gran Paradiso National Park in northern Italy, and in the Maurienne Valley in the French Alps  but in recent years it was both reintroduced to and recolonised most of the European Alps, and is also found in most of all the French alpine range France, southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It was also introduced to Bulgaria and Slovenia.
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 metres (5,900 to 10,800 ft). 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 there is no snow. In Hochlantsch, males spend winter in coniferous forests. For most of the year, males and females occupy different habitat. 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 prefer slopes of 30–45° and use small caves and overhangs for shelter. Home ranges are highly variable, depending on the availability of resources, and vary in size throughout the year. Figures of anything from 180 to 2,800 hectares (0.69 to 11 sq mi; 1.8 to 28 km2) have been recorded. Home ranges tend to be largest during summer and autumn, smallest in winter and intermediate in spring. Female home ranges are usually smaller than those of males. Alpine ibexes appear to have a low rate of predation and typically die of age, starvation or disease in Gran Paradiso.
Alpine ibexes are strictly herbivorous, with over half of their diet consisting of grasses, and the remainder being a mixture of moss, flowers, leaves, and twigs. 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. The climbing ability of the Alpine ibex is such that it has been observed standing on the sheer face of a dam, where it licks the stonework to obtain mineral salts.
Although the Alpine ibex is a social species, they segregate sexually and spatially depending on the season. Four types of groups exist. Adult male groups, female-offsping groups, groups of young individuals 2–3 years old, and mixed sex groups. 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. Mixed sex groups of adult males and females occur during breeding, which lasts from December to January. By April and May, the adults separate. 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. The males then leave their separate wintering areas and gather again.
There is a linear dominance hierarchy among males. In small populations, which are more cohesive, male ibex know their place in the hierarchy based on memories of past encounters while in mobile and large groups, where encounters with strangers are common, rank is based on horn size. Antagonistic behavior in males can come in the form of "direct" or "indirect" aggression. With direct aggression, one male bumps another with its horns or places itself front of its opponent. It stands on its hind legs and comes down on his opponent with its horns. This may signal that it is ready to clash or it may be attempting a real clash. Indirect aggression is mostly intimidation displays.
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 who are all in oestrous. The higher the male's rank, the closer he can get to a female. 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 intensive. They copulate and then he rejoins his group and reverts to the first phase. Gestation lasts around 167 days, and results in the birth of one or two kids, with twins making up about 20% of births.
Alpine ibex reach sexual maturity at eighteen months, but females do not reach their maximum body size for five to six years, and males not for nine to eleven years. The horns grow throughout life, growing most rapidly during the second year of life, and thereafter by about 8 centimetres (3.1 in) a year, eventually slowing to half that rate once the animal reaches ten years of age. Alpine ibex live for up to nineteen years in the wild
The Alpine ibex historically ranged through France, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Bavaria, Austria and Slovenia. Starting in the early 1500s the overall population declined due to overexploitation and poaching and the ibex became extinct in Switzerland and Germany by the 18th century. Ibexes were extinct in Austria and northeastern Italy by the 19th century. They remained only in and around the Gran Paradiso Massif. Located in the western Italian Alps and the Maurienne valley in the French alps, bordering the Gran Paradiso Massif, the park was declared a royal hunting reserve in 1854 by Vittorio Emanuele II. Ibex were protected from poaching and their number 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 stock both drifted naturally and were introduced to other areas. By 1976, the number of populations of ibex numbered 104. Today, the total population of Alpine ibex is over 20,000 and is considered to be of Least Concern by the IUCN. However, introduced populations of ibex appear to have low genetic diversity.
- Aulagnier, S., Kranz, A., Lovari, S., Jdeidi, T., Masseti, M., Nader, I., de Smet, K. & Cuzin, F. (2008). Capra ibex. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 5 April 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.
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