Species of the week #109 – Ibex

About 200 years ago, the forester Josef Zumstein and the naturalist Albert Girtanner were able to celebrate a great conservation success. They had achieved that the last 100 ibex in the Italian Alps were placed under protection. Fortunately, because except for these 100 animals, the stone deer in the Alps had been completely wiped out. All of today’s herds can be traced back to the animals living in the Gran Paradiso region at that time. 100 years later, Switzerland and Austria had also rediscovered the value of the animals and Switzerland asked the Italian king for animals to be reintroduced into the canton of Graubünden, which even has an ibex on its coat of arms. However, their request was repeatedly rejected around 1900. Without further ado, smugglers brought young animals to Switzerland in 1906, financed by the Swiss Ministry of the Interior. Today they form the largest population in the Alps.

Distribution status in Germany Threatened with extinction
Remaining occurance Alpes
Last sightening in Germany current
Habitat Alps, rocky terrain with little vegetation, heaths
Threat Hunting, Climate Change

By the way, “Steinbock” only refers to the males, the females are called “Steingeiß” and form the well-known ibex herds together with the young animals. The animals have a head length of 150 cm and a shoulder height of 90 cm. Males and females are clearly different: the more delicate, reddish or golden-brown coloured bucks with short, barely curved horns weigh about 40 kg, whereas the dark-brown bucks have imposing horns up to one metre long and a goatee and can weigh over 100 kg. In winter, the coat of both sexes turns greyish.

Ibex feed mainly on grasses; they also like to nibble herbs, dwarf shrubs and tree shoots. In winter they stay at lower altitudes than in summer, but even in summer they often descend to alpine meadows to feed, while they seek the safety of high altitudes to spend the night.

There are five populations in Germany: two smaller ones near Graswangtal/Ammerwald and near Bayrischzell and three larger ones in the Allgäu Alps, on the Benediktenwand and in the Hagengebirge. Recolonisation in the German Alps began in 1936 near Berchtesgaden. Today, about 300 animals live in the German Alps.

In France, Italy and Slovenia, the populations are currently in a poor state of conservation. The reason for this is a rampant lung disease in the young animals. Suspected causes are the combination of rising temperatures due to climate change and the limited gene pool.

Political necessity:

– Larger protected areas where the animals are undisturbed

– Continued research on ibex mortality

– Recognition of reintroduction as an emergency solution

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Photo : By Mankei – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=118191954