- CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
- ORDER: Cetartiodactyla
- FAMILY: Bovidae
- GENUS: Capra
- SPECIES: nubiana
The Nubian ibex is the only ibex species adapted to life in hot, arid regions of the world. Their shiny coats reflect the harsh sunlight of northeastern Africa and Saudi Arabia. This coat is also waterproof for times of rain. These incredibly agile animals spend their time in steep mountainous terrain, which would normally be dangerous to other animals. However, they move up and down the precipitous cliffs with ease, and in this hostile environment this plays a big part in predator avoidance. Males grow impressive horns (up to 4 feet!) for defense and to impress females during mating season.
This relatively small ibex is distinguished by the striking, backward-arching horns of the male, which are long, slender, and ridged, casting a brilliant silhouette against the rocky, mountainous terrain of its surroundings. The coat is a light sandy brown color, with a white underbelly, while the legs display noticeable black-and-white markings. Bucks have a dark stripe down the back and older males grow a long, dark beard. During the October rut, the neck, chest, sides, shoulders, and upper legs of the bucks become dark brown to almost black in color. Males grow much larger than females.
The main predators of the ibex are leopards, eagles, and bearded vultures. If being threatened, individuals will rise up on their very strong hind legs and point their intimidating horns toward their predator.
HABITAT AND DIET
Nubian ibex live on rocky, desert mountains with steep slopes, and hills, and associated plateaus, canyons, and wadis. They are located in small pockets over a vast geographical range, including Egypt east of the Nile, northeast Sudan, northern Ethiopia and western Eritrea, Israel, west Jordan, scattered locations in western and central Saudi Arabia, scattered locations in Yemen, and southern Oman.
They are true cliff dwellers, typically only coming down the mountain to graze on grasses and leaves. During warm summer nights, herds rest in high, open areas of slopes, allowing a variety of escape routes, should a threat arise. During the cooler winter nights, herds rest in more sheltered places, like caves or under overhangs.
The Nubian ibex is a diurnal species, meaning they are active during the day and rest by night. The light and shimmering coat is thought to help reflect incoming solar radiation, which allows the animal to remain active throughout the day, even during the hottest summer afternoons. This species is extremely swift, often maneuvering down steep, abrupt terrain to graze on grasses and leaves during the day, and later returning to the safety of the cliffs at night.
Nubian ibex typically feed on grasses and leaves in the wild.
Nubian ibex live in herds of up to 20 members, with offspring remaining with their maternal herd for their first three years. Mating occurs during the late summer or early fall, usually in October. This is when the strongest males fight and compete for the right to breed by pushing against each other with their horns. Gestation lasts about five months and the majority of young are born in March. A litter size of one is usual, but having twins is a possibility and has been documented.
Ibex are found to be primarily nonvocal communicators, relying heavily on posture, eye contact, and chemical secretions to convey information to another individual. Males display to other males with their horns, body movements, tongue, or lips. They will also display to females. Females often bleat during estrus, and males may make several clicking, nasal sounds, or bleats. The rump patch is shown when animals are indicating submissiveness.
AT THE ZOO
Nubian ibex can be seen in the Zoo's new Ethiopian Highlands habitat at Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks.
The Nubian ibex faces numerous threats, although they vary depending on geographic location. Competition with livestock and feral camels poses a threat in Egypt and Saudi Arabia; and so does competition with expanding feral donkey populations in Oman. The fluctuation in availability and distribution of waterholes in Egypt is also likely to be a major influence on ibex populations. Habitat loss and degradation provides significant cause for concern. High numbers of tourists are found at watering, feeding, and birthing sites within Israel, and the extension of back roads, livestock encroachment, and other development pressures are quickly degrading habitat in Saudi Arabia, within the ibex’s remaining refuges. The small size and fragmentation of remaining ibex populations is worrisome, because limited opportunities for dispersal may lead to reduced genetic diversity and decreased chances of survival. Hunting is an additional threat to the species across its range. In Yemen, automatic weapons are owned by many people throughout the country; this is where hunting probably poses the greatest threat to the ibex.
A general ban on hunting ibex was enacted in Saudi Arabia in 1979, however poaching remains difficult to control in remote areas. Israel is leading in the protection of the ibex from hunting. The Nubian ibex dwells in multiple protected areas, including two Saudi Arabian reserves established by the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD), primarily for the protection of this species. The Dana Nature Reserve and Mujib Reserve in Jordan also hold Nubian ibex populations. Additionally, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) established a captive-breeding center in the Mujib Reserve in 1989, where an initial group of 22 ibex sent from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has multiplied to over 100 animals. Over 30 of these animals have now been successfully released to the wild. Because the species’ range includes so many countries, it is difficult to coordinate the same policies and conservation efforts throughout. However, it is essential that there is a cooperative effort between countries to maintain adjacent tracts of habitat and protect this species.