Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica)

French: Bouquetin Des, Bouquetin Des Pyrénées
Spanish: Cabra Montes, Cabra Montesa
GenusCapra (1)
SizeHeight: 65 - 75 cm (2)
Length: 100 - 140 cm (2)
Tail length: 10 - 15 cm (2)
Weight35 - 80 kg (2)

The Spanish ibex is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica) is most easily recognised by the striking, backward-arching horns of the male, which are incredibly long, and ridged on their outer curve, casting a wonderful silhouette against its rocky habitat. While horns are found in both sexes, the male’s horns are much larger and more developed than those of the female, and can grow up to an astonishing 75 centimetres long (2). The length of these impressive horns increases with age until maturity, after which the rate of growth decreases (3).

The Spanish ibex’s coat is a beautiful chestnut brown, with some darker and lighter patches (2). This highly adapted goat has large, flexible hooves and short legs to help it run and leap across the exposed, irregular, steep slopes of its mountainous habitat (4). There is quite a large difference in appearance between males and females, with the male being considerably larger than the female (2).

Historically, the Spanish ibex was found throughout the Iberian Peninsula, in southwest France, Portugal, and Spain (5). It has, however, become extinct in several areas within its northern range, including Andorra and the Pyrenees. Nevertheless, this species is currently widespread in the Iberian Peninsula (1). 

The Spanish ibex typically lives in rocky habitats, including small rocky areas in arable farmland and by the coastline. This wild goat is most frequently found on cliffs with scattered scrubs or pine trees. The Spanish ibex regularly occurs close to areas populated by humans, and is able to disperse easily, readily colonising new areas if the habitat is suitable and accessible (1).

The Spanish ibex has a lifespan of approximately 12 to 16 years in the wild (2). It primarily feeds on herbaceous plants such as grasses and shrubs, although its diet may vary depending on the availability of resources (6).

The Spanish ibex is usually found in herds, although males and females live separately for most of the year and come together only for the mating season (4). 

The male Spanish ibex uses its horns to fight other males during the mating season, which takes place in November and December. Usually males will fight other males of a similar age and size. The winners of the fights receive mating benefits from accessible females (3). During the rut, there is a strict dominance hierarchy where only dominant males gain access to females, which they will then defend from other males (4). A female in oestrus will signal to the male that she is ready to mate by producing certain pheromones (2).

The gestation period for the female Spanish ibex is 161 to 168 days, with a peak birthing period in mid-May. The female breeds every year and typically has one or two young per year. The female ibex will often find a remote, inaccessible location with thick vegetation to give birth to young. After birth, female Spanish ibex and their young congregate together in groups (2) (3).

Populations of the Spanish ibex have gradually declined throughout the last few centuries due to hunting, agricultural expansion and habitat decline (7). Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a major decline in population numbers due to the increasing amount of damage to the ibex’s natural habitat, as well as unrestricted hunting. This led to the extinction of the subspecies Capra pyrenaica lusitanica in 1890 (8).

Outbreaks of mange, which is a skin disease caused by parasitic mites,occurs at irregular intervals, and is known to have caused at least one considerable Spanish ibex population decline (8). Spanish ibex are also occasionally killed accidentally during wild boar hunting using dogs (1).

In previous years, populations of the Spanish ibex were sustained in low numbers due to competition with domestic livestock, which forced this species to live in marginal habitats (8).

This species may be further threatened as it is a high profile trophy-hunting species, with some individuals being valued at more than 2,000 Euros. Hunting is often a significant source of income to the local community in rural areas, and therefore it can be difficult to resolve this issue. The Spanish ibex can also occasionally be a pest to the local community, particularly to agriculture, which can lead to the local people being less inclined to protect this species (1).

Furthermore, competition with an introduced species, the aoudad (Ammotragus lervia), has the potential to become a conservation issue in the future (9) (10). The aoudad, a type of African wild sheep which was introduced into south-eastern Spain in the 1970s, has recently significantly increased its range. It is expected that there will be a level of competition between the Spanish ibex and this newly introduced species (11).

The population of the Spanish ibex is currently rising due to rural abandonment over recent years and therefore an increase in suitable habitat. Hunting reservations and national parks have also contributed to the rise in numbers, as have the introduction of new ibex groups into certain areas (1).

However, for the Spanish ibex population to continue to rise, the number of domestic livestock sharing its resources needs to be controlled, as well as ensuring the livestock are free of disease that could be potentially passed on to the Spanish ibex. Furthermore, hunting should not be permitted in areas where ibex populations cannot sustain extensive exploitation, and appropriate supervision of Spanish ibex population numbers should be in place in all areas they inhabit (1).

Learn more about the conservation of the Spanish ibex: 

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2011)
  2. Grzimek, B. (1990) Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York. 
  3. Alvarez, F. (1990) Horns and fighting in male Spanish ibex, Capra pyrenaica. Journal of Mammalogy, 71: 608-616.
  4. Acevedo, P. and Cassinello, J. (2009) Biology, ecology and status of Iberian ibex Capra pyrenaica: a critical review and research prospectus. Mammal Review,39: 17-32.
  5. Grubb, P. (2005) Spanish ibex. In: Wilson, D.E. and Redder, D.M. (Eds.) Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  6. Martinez, T. (2002) Summer feeding strategy of Spanish ibex Capra pyrenaica and domestic sheep Ovis aries in south-eastern Spain. Acta Theriologica Sinica, 47: 479-490.
  7. Pérez, J. M., Granados, J. E., Soriguer, R. C., Fandos, P., Márquez, P. and Crampe, J. P. (2002) Distribution, status and conservation problems of the Spanish ibex, Capra pyrenaica (Mammalia: Artiodactyla). Mammal Review, 32: 26-39. 
  8. Shackleton, D. M. (1997) Wild Sheep and Goats and their Relatives: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Caprinae. IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.   
  9. Cabral, M.J., Almeida, J., Almeida, P.R., Dellinger, T., Ferrand de Almeida, N., Oliveira, M.E., Palmeirim, J.M., Queiroz, A.I., Rogado, L. And Santos-Reis, M. (2005) Livro Vermelho dos Vertebrados de Portugal. Instituto da Conservacao da Natureza, Lisboa. 
  10. Perez, J. M., Meneguz, P.G., Dematteis, A., Rossi, L. & Serrano, E. (2006) Parasites and conservation biology: the 'ibex-ecosystem'. Biodiversity and Conservation, 15: 2033-2047.
  11. Cassinello, J., Serrano., Calabuig, G. & Perez, J. M. (2004) Range expansion of an exotic ungulate (Ammotragus lervia) in southern Spain: ecological and conservation concerns. Biodiversity and Conservation. 13: 851-866.