Alpine Ibex, Capra ibex

The Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) can be found in the European Alps. It is locally known as the Steinbock in German, the bouquetin in French, the kozorog in Slovenian, and the stambecco in Italian. Its range was once restricted to Northern Italy in the Gran Paradiso National Park, but now comprises nearly all of the European Alps including France, Italy, Germany, Slovenia, Austria, and Switzerland. It prefers a habitat within rocky areas near the snowline on the edge of forests. It can be found at elevations between 5,900 and 10,800 feet. Although it does not typically reside in forests, when populations grow too large, some males may move into the forest.

Males and females live in separate groups for the majority of the year. Females can be seen living on slopes while males tend to switch between habitats, choosing lowland meadows in the spring and alpine meadows in the summer. In winter, males and females gather closer together to move onto the rocky slopes of the mountains, where the least snow can be found and where caves are sometimes used for shelter.

Although the Alpine ibex’s habitat varies throughout the year, home ranges are still established. The sizes of the home ranges also vary through the year, depending upon available resources, fluctuating between 440 and 6,900 acres. Ranges are the largest during spring and summer, and smallest during the winter.

Male Alpine ibex can grow to be up to forty inches in height, with a body length between 59 and 67 inches and a weight of up to 260 pounds. Females are smaller with a height of 33 inches, a body length between 48 and 56 inches, and a weigh of up to 71 pounds. The long, ridged horns of the this ibex species occur on both males and females and can grow to be 39 inches in males and 14 inches in females.

When the Alpine ibex is separated, individuals will form four different groups. These include adult male groups, young adult groups, mixed groups containing both males and females, and all female groups that contain baby ibexes. In the springtime, groups of young ibex ranging from two to three years old are quite common, but groups containing just females do not hesitate to remove them from the area. In the French Alps, female groups containing young ibexes occur year round.

Male groups are governed by a strict dominance hierarchy, in which individuals are highly capable of understanding their place. In areas where many male groups are present, encounters with strange males are common, and both direct and indirect aggression occurs. Direct aggression consists of fighting with horns, while indirect aggression consists of displays of intimidation.

The breeding season for the Alpine ibex occurs between the months of December and January, typically lasting six weeks. During this time, larger male groups will gather in smaller groups, and look for female groups in order to breed. When females and males encounter each other, males that hold the top places in the hierarchy have an easier time finding a mate. During this time, rutting begins, and this consists of attempts to display strength. After courtship rituals are performed, males will follow a single female, protecting her from other possible mates. Males will return to their groups to repeat the courtship process after mating.

After mating, female Alpine ibex have a pregnancy lasting up to 167 days, resulting in a birth of one or two baby ibex, or kids. Sexual maturity is reached at eighteen months for both males and females, but both sexes will reach adult sizes at different ages. Females reach their adult size between five and six years, while males continue to grow until ten to eleven years. The horns of the Alpine ibex grow continually through its life, but at ten years of age, the growth rate slows. The average lifespan of a wild Alpine ibex is nineteen years.

The diet of the Alpine ibex consists mainly of grasses, but it will also consume moss, leaves, twigs, and flowers. Vegetation like leaves or shoots that cannot be reached by normal means is consumed when the ibex stands on two hind legs. During the warmer months in summer, water must be consumed ever few days, and so habitats are highly dependent on a stable water source. Steep cliffs or caves are used to protect the ibexes from predators.

During the 1500’s, the population numbers of the Alpine ibex dwindled to extinction in Switzerland, Germany, and France due to over exploitation and poaching. By the 19th century, these ibexes were extinct in Austria. In 1854, the population numbers increased when Vittorio Emanuele II declared the only area of its range in Italy a royal hunting ground. In 1914, the Alpine ibex numbered 3, 020 and this number increased in 1922 when Gran Paradiso was declared a National Park. Because of this, individuals numbered high enough to move into unprotected areas and inhabit many areas of its original range. Currently, the Alpine ibex numbers over 20,000 and it appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern”.

Image Caption: Alpine Ibex. Credit: Martouf/Wikipedia