Male Nubian ibex

Nubian Ibex

Capra nubiana
  • CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
  • ORDER: Cetartiodactyla
  • FAMILY: Bovidae
  • GENUS: Capra
  • SPECIES: nubiana


Male Nubian ibex
A male’s horns are large, dark, and semi-circular, with annual rings on the back. They grow 4.5 to 8 inches (12 to 20 centimeters) during the first five years of life, and then grow between .7 and 1.5 inches (2 and 4 centimeters) per year thereafter. Males also have long dark beards, which are used for scent marking and to excite the females during rutting.

The Nubian ibex is the only ibex 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. Incredibly agile, the ibex spends its time in steep mountainous terrain, which would normally be dangerous to other wildlife. 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.


Nubian ibex baby on rocky cliff
A young Nubian ibex climbs a rocky cliffside at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Israel.

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 diurnal, 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 ibex to remain active throughout the day, even during the hottest summer afternoons. Nubian bex are 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.


A group of three Nubian ibex
Both sexes have horns. They are much larger in males than females; they can grow up to 48 inches (122 centimeters) on bucks and curve backwards.


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.

A pair of female Nubian ibex.
The females’ horns reach about 14 inches (36 centimeters) in length.

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 an ibex is indicating submissiveness.


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. 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 Nubian ibex. 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 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 individuals. Over 30 Nubian ibex have been successfully reintroduced to their native habitat. Because the Nubian ibex’s 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 Nubian ibex.

By supporting San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, you are our ally in saving and protecting wildlife worldwide.

Save Wildlife. Help us keep this and other species from disappearing forever.


Up to 17 years


Gestation: 5 months

Number of young at birth: Usually 1; 2 have been observed

Age of maturity: 2 to 3 years


Length: 3.5 to 4.1 feet (107 to 125 centimeters)

Height: 2 to 2.5 feet (61 to 76 centimeters) tall at shoulder

Weight: 55 to 145 pounds (25 to 66 kilograms); males are larger than females

Horn length: Females, 14 inches (36 centimeters); males, 48 inches (122 centimeters)


The Nubian ibex has special grooming habits. Flocks of grackles peck at the hides of the ibex looking for parasites and any other insects that may be harmful to the ibex. There is only one grackle per ibex, and the grackles often compete for “their” ibex.


More Animals & Plants from San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park