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Alpine Ibex - Capra ibex

Family:
Sheep, goats (Artiodactyla Bovidae Caprinae)
Status:
Least Concern

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Taxonomic status

Scientific name

Capra ibex

Common name

Alpine Ibex

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Species information

Physical characteristics

Body Length 75-170 cm
Shoulder Height 70-94 cm
Tail Length 15-30 cm
Weight 40-120 kg

 

Alpine ibex at the waterside

Alpine ibex at the waterside


The coat length varies seasonally, being short and fuzzy during the summer and growing thicker wool and long guard hairs during the winter. Young animals and adult females are generally light ochre brown to pale brown, while the colour of adult males changes seasonally. In summer, the coat is a yellowish brown with darker legs. There are lighter parts on the neck and flanks, and the underparts are white. In late summer, there is a gradual change in seven to twelve year old males to a dark chestnut brown. As spring approaches, this colouration fades.

Bucks have a short beard, 6-7 cm long. The heavy body is supported by short, study legs. The sabre-shaped horns curve upward and bend towards the rear. They are found in both sexes, but are much larger in males than females. Horns on bucks grow up to 100 cm long, and have small bumps on the outer curve. The much thinner, shorter horns of females are smooth, and grow up to 35 cm.

Habitat, behaviour, food and reproduction

Habitat and behaviour

Alpine ibex typically inhabit open, rocky habitats at high altitude, above the tree line at an altitude of 1,600-3,200 m. Steep, south-facing slops with rugged topography and grassy vegetation are preferred. Below the tree line, at subalpine levels, ibex are only found in open, sunny woodland interspersed with rocky outcrops. Living in montane pastures Ibex feed on alpine grasses, herbaceous plants and shrubs. This species is diurnal, but most active during the early morning and late afternoon. They migrate seasonally to different altitudes, spending the harsher winter months at medium elevations.

Ibex are known to be extremely good climbers and do not fear steep slopes. The next series of photo's show a group of ibex that are climbing up against Cingino Dam In the Italian Alps to eat the lichens from the stones and lick the saline that is disolving from the concreet.

Ibex foraging for lichens and saline

Ibex foraging for lichens and salineIbex foraging for lichens and salineIbex foraging for lichens and salineIbex foraging for lichens and saline

Reproduction and Group structure

The animals occur in maternal herds of 10-20 members, while males roam solitarily or in bachelor groups. Males join the female herds during late autumn, remaining through the winter and departing during early spring. The male bachelor herds which form during the summer have a distinct hierarchy, based on age, size, and strength. Playful fights occur to clarify this ranking, with bucks rearing up on their hind legs before crashing their horns together. During the rut however, most high-ranking bucks avoid each other, minimizing the number of serious conflicts. Population densities vary widely - from 1 to 9 animals per square kilometer.

Two bucks foraging

Females gestate for about 170 days, and usually carry one kid per pregnancy. Kids can jump after their first day, after which they join kid groups. Females are sexually mature by 18 months, and males are mature at 2 years. The species lifespan is typically 10-14 years. 

Gestation Period 165-170 days
Young per Birth 1, rarely 2
Weaning Gradual [no cut off]
Sexual Maturity Females at 1-1.5 years, males at 2 years
Life span 10-14 years

 

group of bachelor ibex

Predation

Main Predators: For kids, Golden eagle, Fox.

Population size and trends

After centuries of decline caused primarily by intensive hunting, at the beginning of the 19th century at most a few hundred Alpine ibex survived in the Gran Paradiso massif (Valle d'Aosta region, Italy).

Current ibex populations in the Alps are generally restricted to mountain areas above the tree line and are the result of both translocations from the original core of ca. 100 individuals and natural colonisation. These efforts, together with spontaneous migration from adjoining countries, have increased the population and the number of areas inhabited by ibex, although the distribution is still discontinuous.

In the 1990s it was estimated that c.30,000 ibex lived in the Alps. Populations grew steadily from the 1960s to the 1990s, showing a mean annual growth rate between 3% and 6%.

AreaNumbersDevelopment
World32,000Increasing
Switzerland15,000Increasing
Italy9,700Increasing
Austria3,200Increasing
France3,300Increasing
Slovenia250Increasing
Germany220Increasing
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Distribution: maps, historical and current

Countries

Interactive map

Capra ibex - Alpine Ibex: current distribution
Source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species


View Alpine Ibex in a larger map

Further map information

Range map Capra ibex

Historical distribution

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. 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, have increased areas with ibex, but its distribution is still rather discontinuous in the Alps.

Current distribution

The Alpine ibex is endemic to Europe, where its native range is the Alps of France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and northern Italy.

It has been introduced to Slovenia and Bulgaria.

The ibex was driven very close to extinction in the early 19th century, and with the exception of the population in the Gran Paradiso National Park (Italy), all current populations originate from re-introductions or introductions. Although the range of the ibex has increased over the last century as a result of translocations and natural colonisation, its distribution is still rather patchy in the Alps.

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Threats

Genetic variability

Although the species is not considered threatened at present, there is concern regarding genetic diversity, the founder effect and minimum viable populations. Genetic variability in ibex populations is among the lowest reported from microsatellites in mammal species, and the Alpi Marittime-Mercantour population in particular has suffered from a severe genetic bottleneck associated with its reintroduction. The ibex's distribution remains fragmented and many colonies are small and thus vulnerable to epizootics and stochastic events as well as inbreeding depression. Colonies with >60 individuals are believed to be viable as long as diseases (most importantly mange) do not affect them.

Hybridization

Hybridization can be a threat where populations are small and sympatric with high densities of domestic goats, as is the case in Italy. High densities of domestic goats and sheep may also have a negative impact on the ibex through parasite and disease transmission and resource competition.

Appropriate habitat

Appropriate habitat for the species may be decreasing, as the abandonment of traditional agriculture means that high-altitude alpine meadows are reverting to forest through natural succession.

Human disturbance

Human disturbance as a result of increased tourism and recreation is suspected to be a general threat to mountain ungulates.

Hunting

Alpine ibex are legally hunted in some areas (e.g. Bulgaria, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia), although hunting is completely prohibited in several range states. Legal hunting is not considered a threat if it is properly planned and regulated, but poaching is a potential threat.

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Conservation information

IUCN Red List

Least Concern: ver 3.1

EU habitat directive

Annex V, animal and plant species of community interest whose taking in the wild and exploitation may be subject to management measures

CITES

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EU Wildlife trade regulation EC Reg. 338/97

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Bern convention

Appendix III, protected fauna species

Bonn convention

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Conservation status

The Alpine ibex is listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention and Annex V of the EU Habitats and Species Directive, and is protected under national legislation in most range states.

Protected areas and intensive conservation management

It occurs in a number of protected areas (e.g. Hohe Tauern and Kalkhochalpen National Parks, Austria; Vanoise, Ecrins, and Mercantour National Parks, France; Gran Paradiso and Stelvio National Parks and Maritime Alps Natural Park, Italy), and it has been the subject of intensive conservation management in the form of reintroductions and introductions. Reintroductions began at the end of the 19th century in the Swiss Alps, while in Italy they have been significant only since the 1970's.

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. Screening 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.

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Library

Presentations

Reports

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Experts and scientific referees

IUCN SSC

For more detailed information view the 'Alpine Ibex - Capra ibex' page on to the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

Hardenberg, Achaz von

Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) and Alpine Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra); Italy, Alps
Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy
www.pngp.it

Lovari, Sandro

Research Unit on Behavioural Ecology, Ethology and Wildlife Management, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Siena, Siena, Italy

Singh, Navinder

Large mammals; Central and South Asia, Europe; Biodiversity Offsets, Business and Biodiversity
Imperial College London, U.K.
www.bio-demography.org/navinder.html

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