Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Spain 23: Spanish Ibex

Spanish Ibex
Across the mountains of the Old World, from Spain east to the Himalaya, and south into Ethiopia and Sudan, one of the most characteristic large mammals are the various species of Ibex. One of these was eventually domesticated and today has a worldwide range across North and South America and many islands in the form of the domestic goat, Capra aegagrus. However, the wild species still survive and one of these we tracked down in the hills near the ruins of a town called Belchite, which was heavily bombed during the Spanish Civil War. These were a family party of Iberian Ibex, Capra pyrenaica.

Alpine Ibex
The Spanish Ibex is closely related to its nearest neighbour, the Alpine Ibex Capra ibex, and at one time there were four subspecies in various parts of the Iberian peninsula. Today only two survive, the Gredos or Western Spanish Ibex C.pyrenaica victoriae and the Southeastern Spanish Ibex C.pyrenaica hispanica, which is the form we found. Of the two extinct subspecies, the Prtuguese Ibex C. pyrenaica lusitanica succumbed to unregulated hunting in 1892 and the nominate subspecies, Pyrenean Ibex C.pyrenaica pyrenaica became extinct in 2000. In a world first this last extinctiuon was briefly reversed in 2009 when a cloned kid was born alive, but it only survived a few minutes and the experiment has not been repeated.
Spanish Ibex distribution
For most of the year Spanish Ibexes are found either in all-male groups or groups comprising females and young of the year. During the rutting season in November-December males join the female groups and compete vigorously for the right to mate, using displays and head butting. As part of these displays they compare their magnificent horns, which can be as much as 75cm long. Males take several years to grow large enough horns and a large enough body to stand a chance in contests, and consequently while females can breed at three years old males probably do not reproduce until they are 9 or 10. Maximum recorded lifespan may be as much as 16 years. After mating the females give birth to one or two kids, usually in May.

As might be expected, Ibex will eat pretty much everything green, but they tend to prefer broad leaved plants or bark more than grass. With their agility they can reach inaccessible ledges and plants growing from cliff faces, and this also enables them to escape from predators. Adult Ibex in Spain have few natural predators today other than wolves, but kids may also fall prey to Lynx and Golden Eagles. During the Ice Ages they might also have been at risk from leopards and lions amongst other big cats. Today however the biggest predator is human hunting. Although regulated, and the populations are listed as Least Concern, two species were hunted to extinction and the others came close before being protected.

A Youtube video of wild Spanish Ibex can be found here:

(images from Wikipedia)

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