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The alpine ibex

Capra ibex

The Alpine ibex is a wild hoofed animal of solid built, perfectly adapted to a life amongst mountain peaks, even during the most difficult periods of the year. Like the chamois, the ibex belongs to the Bovidae family, but in the case of the ibex the difference between the two sexes is fairly evident. The male is distinguished by big horns that develop from a bony base on the skull. The horns are of a grey-beige colour; they have a basal diameter of 20-25cm and in older males may exceed a length of one metre. A short beard is also characteristic. This is more easily visible during the winter, when it reaches 5-6cm. Males also distinguish themselves by their larger size. An adult ibex weighs between 65kg and 130kg, has a shoulder height of 85-92cm and a body length of 1.3-1.6m. The females are smaller (70-80cm shoulder height and 1.2-1.35m length) and lighter, weighing between 40kg and 65kg. They also have horns that are, however, very much shorter (only 20-25cm) and definitely more slender than those of the males.
The ibex’s proverbial ability to climb rocks, which is typical of the species, is due to its powerful leg muscles, but also on the particular structure of the hooves that have an especially soft base, which is ideal for getting a good hold on rocky ground. Less developed than in the chamois is, however, the habit of moving about in the snow and on the ice.
The winter coat of the adult males is usually dark brown, whilst the legs are even darker and the stomach is of a lighter colour. The tail is dark, too, and is very noticeable against the whitish patch on the backside. The females’ coat tends to have lighter tints and is generally more homogeneous in colour. In the summer, the fur has an iron-grey colour, with chestnut shades. In contrast with other wild hoofed animals, ibexes moult completely only in the spring. Their winter coat, on the other hand, is formed by increased fur growth that provides thermal insulation during the cold season.
The alpine ibex
The alpine ibex


The Alpine ibex is a true inhabitant of the rocks; it is well adapted to the dry climate and during the summer it can be found at the highest altitudes (generally at levels between 2300m and 3200m a.s.l.). Although the ibex may come down to the Alpine grassland to graze there, it does, nonetheless, choose areas with rock cliffs, gorges, terraces, buttresses and steep channels where it may take refuge during the hours of rest. Dominating the terrain that surrounds a mountain peak is a fundamental element of security in its defence strategy towards predators and then ... up there, one feels the heat of a warm summer’s day much less, and this animal really does not like it.
During the winter, the ibexes remain at high altitudes (generally between 1600m and 2800m a.s.l.), but they will seek out steep south-facing slopes. This is not so much because they prefer the milder temperatures there, but rather because the snow melts earlier on these slopes, uncovering the dry grass which is so important for the animals’ survival during this severe time-period.
Only in late spring, the ibexes - and then mainly herds of males - will come down to lower altitudes to take advantage of the first nourishing vegetation that has returned to the pastures in the valley.
However, it is very unlikely that ibexes will cross the valley bottom or big glaciers, which, therefore, constitute real “ecological barriers” for this species. In fact, the ibex colonizes new terrain much more slowly than other wild hoofed animals.
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