Capra walie, or the Walia Ibex, is found exclusively in the mountains of northern Ethiopia. Nearly all of the remaining population resides along 25 kilometers of the northern escarpment in the Simien Mountains National Park (Massicot, 2001).
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
Like other members of the genus Capra, Walia Ibex are sexually dimorphic in many aspects of appearance. In overall size, adult females weigh about 80 kilograms, roughly 50-60% of their male counterparts, which can weigh up to 125 kilograms (McDonald, 1984). Horns are semi-circular in shape and are found in both sexes, but male horns are more massive, reaching 110 centimeters in length (Beyene, 2001). Key features of horns are random knots and age rings, both of which distinguish individuals in a population (Dunbar and Dunbar, 1981).
Both sexes of Walia Ibex have black and white markings on their legs and a gray-white underside. The dorsal area is colored chestnut-brown and is darker in males (Nievergelt, 1990). In the wild, females are lighter in color and very inconspicuous (Dunbar, 1978). At older ages, males develop both a black chest and a "beard," further distinguishing the sexes (Dunbar and Dunbar, 1981).
Perhaps as an adaptation to its mountainous environment, Walia Ibex hooves have sharp edges and concave undersides that improves their grip by allowing them to work as a "suction cup" (Beyene, 2001).
Range mass: 80 to 125 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Habitat and Ecology
Walia Ibex have varied social units, such as female-based groups that include kids and young males until they are about two or three years, groups of adult males, and mixed groups (Nievergelt 1981, Dunbar and Dunbar 1981). Most groups are relatively small, although groups of more than 50 individuals have been observed (Ludi 2006). Sexual segregation is pronounced mostly during parturition and lactation. This species is polygynous, with breeding year round, unlike other ibex species; however, there is a rutting peak from March to May. The diet of the Walia Ibex includes a great variety of herbaceous and woody plants (Dunbar 1978, Nievergelt 1981).
The Simien Mountains are characterized by huge gorges and gulleys, both of which carve out steep and jagged cliffs. Walia Ibex individuals inhabit only the high cliffs that rise above the lower elevated plateau, providing a potential risk of falling for careless individuals (Beyene, 2001)
At a high elevation and low-latitude, the cliff habitat is conducive to extremes in the seasonality of precipitation and daily temperature fluctuation.
The wet season runs from May until October and is correlated with abundant plant growth and diversity. During the dry season, foods in the form of grasses and shrubs dramatically disappear from most of the landscape (Dunbar, 1978).
At an average elevation of nearly 3500 meters, the Walia Ibex encounters tremendous temperature fluctuations from night to day. On a normal day, the temperature ranges from near freezing to more than 25 degrees Celsius. Despite the fluctuations in daily temperatures, seasonal differences in temperature are minimal due to Ethiopia's proximity to the equator (Nievergelt, 1990).
Range elevation: 2500 to 4500 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: mountains
A "generalized herbivore," Walia Ibex is both a grazer and a browser (Massicot, 2001). In fact, it utilizes a wide variety of grass and shrub material in its diet. Although grazing accounts for a significant part of its diet, this species spends most of its time feeding browsing in the cover of dense shrubs (Dunbar, 1978).
Foods eaten include: grasses, herbs, shrubs, bushes, creepers and lichens.
Plant Foods: leaves; lichens
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
Hyenas appear to be the only predators capable of killing an adult Walia Ibex. However, juveniles are at risk from a large variety of predators ranging from wildcats to foxes (Dunbar, 1978).
- hyenas (Hyaeninae)
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
The typical mating system in C. Walie is polygyny, with dominant males siring a disproportionate amount of offspring during the breeding season. These males, because of their large size and fighting experience, are able to monopolize females by obtaining exclusive access to overlapping female home ranges (Dunbar and Dunbar, 1981).
Mating System: polygynous
C. walie is distinguished from other ibex species in its ability to breed at all times of the year. This may be possible because of the lack of temperature seasonality in the tropical Simien Mountains, producing no environmental costs to individuals that breed year-round (Nievergelt, 1990). Nevertheless, most often the Walia Ibex mates during the rut season, from February until April (Nievergelt, 1990). Peak sexual activity between males and females is observed between the months of March and June, overlapping with the short rut season (Dunbar and Dunbar, 1981). C. walie individuals reach sexual maturity at the age of one (Massicot, 2001). Both sexes continue to grow, however, and age is correlated with body size (Dunbar and Dunbar, 1981).
Breeding season: February-June
Range number of offspring: 1 (low) .
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
Parental Investment: altricial
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Ethiopia
Population location: Ethiopia
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Capra walie , see its USFWS Species Profile
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Critically Endangered
- 1994Endangered(Groombridge 1994)
- 1988Endangered(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Endangered(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
Over the last half-century, Walia Ibex has been considered one of the most endangered ungulates in the world (Nievergelt, 1990). Today, this species is deemed "critically endangered" primarily because of the very small population left in the wild. In fact, recent estimates predict the number of remaining individuals to be no greater than 400 (Massicot, 2001).
Pressures on the remaining population take the form of limited habitat and poaching. Although not as large a problem as was in the past, poaching still does occur to some degree inside the national park (Beyene, 2001). On another note, increasing the population numbers in the future will inevitably be difficult as estimates predict that Walia Ibex's current habitat can only handle around 2000 individuals (Beyene, 2001).
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
A few Walia ibex also move to the south-east of their natural range to feed on cultivated crops at places where there is cultivation of barley and other crops on steep gradients. These incidences occasionally lead to conflict with local farmers (B. Gebremedhin pers. comm.).
The Simen Mountains National Park, which contains the majority of the world population of this species, was gazetted by the Simen National Park Order No. 59 (1969) and became a World Heritage Site in 1978. Here the Walia Ibex may be receiving adequate if limited protection. The Park, while providing a core conservation area, must be considered in terms of a much larger environmental unit. It is essential to maintain wildlife corridors between the Park and surrounding areas of the Simen mountains. A detailed management plan for the Park and surrounding areas was developed after a 20-year inter-disciplinary research program (Hurni 1986). It deals not only with the Walia Ibex, but all the area’s unique wildlife, as well as the needs of the rural human population. Currently, the Park is administered by the Parks and Wildlife Administration Authority of the Regional Government. The park has attracted more international and national attention following its inclusion on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1996. An integrated conservation and development project – the Simen Mountains National Integrated Development Project - funded by the Austrian Government and implemented in collaboration with the Parks Authority has resulted in considerable conservation activity in the last seven years.
The following conservation measures have been proposed: 1) establish the 400 km² buffer zone proposed in the 1986 Management Plan (Hurni 1986) for Simen Mountains National Park, which would increase the effective area of Simen Mountains National Park to 590 km² and serve two main functions; 2) reduce human and livestock impact in the National Park; 3) prohibit all hunting within the Park and enforce regulations effectively; 4) although no hybrids of domestic goats with Walia Ibex have been reported, free-ranging domestic goats must be eliminated from the Park and around other ibex populations to exclude the possibility of hybridization occurring; 5) with no Walia Ibex in captivity anywhere in the world, a small number should be captured to form the nucleus of a captive-breeding group in a closely managed and protected location in Ethiopia, and for a captive-breeding population outside the country; and 6) establish a monitoring programme that includes systematic execution and control of the conservation measures (Hillman et al. 1997; Nievergelt in press). A detailed ecological study of the species and habitat assessment on the potential new areas for re-establishment is needed.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Positive Impacts: food
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The walia ibex (Capra walie, Ge'ez: ዋልያ wālyā) 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 enough 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.
These animals have a chocolate-brown to chestnut-brown coat coloration, greyish-brown muzzle, and a lighter grey in the eyes and legs. The belly and insides of the legs are white, and black and white patterns stretch upon the legs of these animals. The males weigh 80–125 kg (180-280 lb) and have very large horns which curve backwards, reaching lengths up to 110 cm (43 in). These horns are used for dominance disputes between males. The males also have distinguished black beards. The length of the walia ibex beard varies with age. The older males have longer, thicker beards than the young ones . Females also have horns, but they are shorter and thinner. Females are smaller and lighter in color. The horns on both males and females are rigid. The overall size of the walia ibex is smaller and slimmer than the alpine ibex.
Walia ibex live in herds ranging from five to 20 animals. However the older, more mature males are often more solitary, though they will remain within a short distance of the main herd most times and during the mating season and rejoin with the herd for breeding purposes. Breeding usually takes place during late fall and early winter. The following spring, the female will give birth to one or two offspring. A herd of walia ibex was noted to travel one half of a kilometer up to two kilometers per day.
Habitat and ecology
The walia ibex lives in very steep, rocky cliff areas between 2,500 and 4,500 m (8,200 and 14,800 ft) high. Their habitats are mountain forests, subalpine grasslands, and scrub. They are grazers. Their diets include bushes, herbs, lichens, shrubs, grasses, and creepers. They are often seen standing on their hind legs to get to young shoots of giant heath. Walia ibex are most active in the morning and evening, and will rest in the sun on rock ledges. Males live in bachelor groups and females live in groups with their offspring. Mating season is at summit from March to May. Males compete for females by ramming their horns with amazing force. Gestation periods last 150–165 days. They reach sexual maturity at one year of age.
Population and threats
This species is only found in the northern mountains of Ethiopia. Once widespread in the Semien Mountains, the numbers dropped during the 20th century. Only 200–250 animals were surviving in 1994-1996, but recently the population has somewhat increased to about 500 individuals in 2004. Habitat loss and hunting are major threats to the species. Encroaching settlement, livestock grazing, and cultivation are also big problems. Road construction is also fragmenting their habitat. The most important stronghold for their survival is now the 13,600 ha (34,000 acres) sized Semien National Park which was established in 1969. The walia ibex is considered to be endangered by the IUCN and needs further conservation measures to survive. Since no captive population is kept anywhere in the world, the IUCN recommends capturing a few individuals to form the nucleus of a captive breeding group.