Markhor (Capra falconeri)
|Size||Head-body length: 140 - 180 cm (2)|
Male weight: 80 - 110 kg (2)
Female weight: 32 - 50 kg (2)
Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
With its spectacular twisting horns, the markhor is one of the most striking of goats (Capra spp.), and owing to its size, also one of the most imposing (4) (5). The colour and length of the coat varies with the seasons, with the short reddish-grey summer coat becoming longer and greyer over the cold winter months (2) (5). In addition to the prominent horns, which can reach up to 1.6 metres, the stocky male has a black beard and a shaggy mane of long dark hairs that hangs down from the neck (2) (4) (6). The female is shorter, more slender, and has comparatively small horns, reaching only 25 centimetres in length (2) (5) (7). Numerous subspecies have been proposed, each principally differing in the shape of the horns, but only three are consistently recognised: Capra falconeri falconeri, C. f. heptneri, and C. f. megaceros (1) (4) (8).
The markhor is found in the mountains of central Asia, with populations scattered through north eastern Afghanistan, northern India, northern and central Pakistan, southern Tajikistan and southern Uzbekistan (1).
Living at high elevations, around and above the tree-line, the markhor may be found in a range of environments including steep gorges, rocky areas, scrub forest and grassy meadows (1).
Like many other wild goats, the markhor is a skilled, nimble climber, and will often be seen perched on precipitous rock faces, away from the threat of predators, such as snow leopards, wolves and lynxes (1) (6) (8). As a diurnal species, it is typically active during the day, with early mornings and late afternoons being the periods of peak activity (1) (2). During the summer months, it grazes on tussock grass, but in the winter, it descends to comparatively low altitudes and mostly forages on shrubby leaves and twigs (1) (2) (5) (8). For most of the year, the females and young live in small herds (average of around nine individuals), while the males normally live alone. However, during the rut, which begins in September, the males join the herds, and compete amongst each other for the right to mate with the mature females. These fights are often extremely aggressive, with the combatants rearing up and clashing horns with staggering power (2). Mating occurs in the autumn with the young being born from April to mid-June following a gestation period of 135 to 170 days. The one or two young remain with the mother until the following breeding season, and reach sexual maturity at around 30 months (1) (2).
There are estimated to be less than 2,500 markhor remaining in the wild, with each subpopulation comprising less than 250 individuals (1). The main cause of the precipitous decline has been excessive hunting, both for meat and for its impressive horns (1) (7). Owing to the occurrence of armed conflict and the ready availability of weapons through much of its range, many populations have been hunted to extinction. In addition to being highly valued as a trophy species by sportsmen, the horns are also used for traditional medicine in the East Asian market (1) (2) (7). Aside from hunting, the markhor is also severely threatened by habitat loss and competition for food with domestic livestock (1).
Since the mid-1990s, the markhor has been listed on Appendix I of CITES, which prohibits all trade in this species without a permit. In addition, it is legally protected through much of its range and occurs within several protected areas, although enforcement is likely to be a problem in some regions. One of the most successful conservation initiatives for the markhor has been a trophy hunting program developed in Pakistan. Local communities are encouraged to conserve the markhor through economic incentives, whereby a large percentage of the money generated by a small quota of legal trophy hunts goes to the community. Owing to the success of this program, proposals have been made for the implementation of similar trophy hunting conservation schemes in other parts of the markhor's range (1).
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To find out more about the conservation of the markhor, see:
IUCN Red List:
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- Diurnal: active during the day
- Gestation: the state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
- Subspecies: a population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
- Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
CITES (September, 2008)
- Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
- Burnie, D (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
- Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
CITES Species Identification Manual (December, 2009)
- Shrestha, T.K. (1981) Wildlife of Nepal. Curriculum Development Center, Tribhuvan University Press, Kathmandu, Nepal.