Capra sibiricaSiberian ibex

Geographic Range

Capra sibirica is concentrated in multiple mountain ranges throughout central Asia, as far north as southern Siberia. There are multiple, distinct populations in Mongolia and China, and throughout the central Asian ranges to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Habitat

Throughout its range, C. sibirica inhabits rocky mountain zones, especially those containing steep slopes (Heptner et al. 1988) The elevation inhabited by C. sibirica can range greatly due to seasonal weather conditions. There is also a large elevation difference between the mountain ranges they occupy. They inhabit mountain ranges from 500 m to over 5000 m above sea level (Heptner et al. 1988). (Heptner, et al., 1988)

  • Range elevation
    500 to >5000 m
    1640.42 to ft

Physical Description

Body length of a mature male Siberian ibex can range from 130 to 165 cm, with a female maximum length averaging slightly longer than 135 cm. Height at the withers is 80 to 100 cm in males. Chest circumference ranges from 92 to 125 cm in males, and 74 to 89 cm in females. Ear and tail lengths are similar between sexes, with ear length from 14 to 16 cm and tail length from 10 to 18 cm. Mass is 80 to 100 kg in males and 30 to 40 kg in females (Heptner et al., 1988). (Heptner, et al., 1988)

Capra sibirica is the largest member of the genus Capra. They are stout and thick, with short necks and large rib cages (Heptner et al. 1988). Sexual dimorphism is pronounced within Siberian ibexes. This is evident in seasonal pelage, body size, weight, and horn dimensions. (Heptner, et al., 1988)

The bow-shaped horns of C. sibirica are also the largest within the genus. The horns of males measure 100 to 148 cm (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). The maximum length of female horns is 37 to 38 cm (Heptner et al. 1988). Horns of females are also much thinner than those of males. Similar to other ibexes, the anterior surface of Siberian ibex horns are segmented by transverse ridges. (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001; Heptner, et al., 1988)

Significant variation in pelage color is one reason that C. sibirica has be given more names than any other animal in the genus (Heptner et al. 1988). Color variation can be attributed to size, age, sex, season, and specific range. (Heptner, et al., 1988)

Siberian ibexes share many common pelage characteristics with other members of Capra, such as light abdomens and a dark stripe running along the back, from the neck to the tail (Schaller 1977). Siberian ibexes have light yellowish undersides, becoming lighter around the groin (Heptner et al. 1988). They have darker brown patches that can be found on parts of their head, shoulders, legs, chest, beard, and flanks (Fedosenko and Blank 2001, Heptner et al. 1988). The darker brown patches can vary greatly or even be absent on certain individuals completely. (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001; Heptner, et al., 1988; Schaller, 1977)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • ornamentation
  • Range mass
    30 to 100 kg
    66.08 to 220.26 lb
  • Range length
    130 to 165 cm
    51.18 to 64.96 in

Reproduction

A breeding hierarchy between male Siberian ibexes is often established through fighting. Multiple aggressive tactics are used, including clashes of horns, with both males either facing each other or standing next to one another (Schaller 1977). According to Heptner et al. (1988), mortality is rare during such fights. (Heptner, et al., 1988; Schaller, 1977)

Male Siberian ibexes begin courting females by approaching with a low-stretch pose (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). Males then sniff and lick the female before letting out a low scream, which causes the female to run away from the male (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). This can result in the female hitting the male with her horns, or urinating, which provokes the male to perform flehmen (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). According to Fedosenko and Blank (2001), this courtship behavior lasts over 30 minutes. A pair must separate themselves from other animals for successful copulation to occur because of the heavy competition between males for access to females (Baskin and Danell 2003). (Baskin and Danell, 2003; Fedosenko and Blank, 2001)

The timing of mating seasons for C. sibirica varies between mountain ranges and is significantly affected by weather conditions. The mating season (rut) can start in October and extend into January, due to differences between ranges and weather conditions. According to Fedosenko and Blank (2001), estrus lasts 20 days and an occasional second estrus can extend the duration of the rut. (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001)

The rut generally starts when mature males migrate down in elevation to join female groups. Males generally don’t breed until they are five years old, when they can be competitive against other males. Females can breed as early as their second year (Heptner et al. 1988). Mature males will establish and guard harems of five to fifteen females (Heptner et al. 1988). (Heptner, et al., 1988)

Gestation lasts 170 to 180 days, commonly resulting in the birth of one kid (Heptner et al. 1988). In one study, only two of 56 pregnant, captured females bore twins (Heptner et al. 1988). Though young Siberian ibexes can graze like adults within 1.5 months of birth, they have been known to suckle into December (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). Depending on when kids are weaned, they can suckle for the first five to eight months of life. (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001; Heptner, et al., 1988)

  • Breeding interval
    Siberian ibexes breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Mating generally occurs around November.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
    1
  • Range gestation period
    5.67 to 6 months
  • Range weaning age
    5 to 8 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    5 (high) years

Female Siberian ibexes leave their groups and yearlings for around a week before and after parturition and give birth in solitude (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). After birth the mother licks the neonate clean. A few days following birth, the newborn is often left alone to hide from predators. This length of time can vary depending on the ability of the young to handle the terrain (Schaller 1977). (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001; Schaller, 1977)

Young Siberian ibexes generally stay close to their mothers for protection, and bleat at signs of danger. Fedosenko and Blank (2001) report that young Siberian ibex may run to the closest adult females for protection in the presence of danger. Suckling decreases each month after birth, and can extend into December, though young continue to live with their mothers through the following year (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents

Lifespan/Longevity

Male Siberian ibexes can live up to 15 years, and females up to 17 years in the wild, though males generally live for eight to ten years (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). A female Siberian ibex has been reported to live over 22 years in captivity in a London Zoo (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    17 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    >22 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    22.3 years
    AnAge

Behavior

Siberian ibexes are generally found in herds. Herd sizes are often directly related to population size (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). The sex ratio of herds differs throughout the year. Females, yearlings, and young males commonly make up herds. Adult males can be found in small herds together. Adult males have also been known to live in solitude when not in rut. Larger herds, consisting of up to 40 individuals, can contain animals of all different ages and both sexes (Heptner et al. 1988). (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001; Heptner, et al., 1988)

Migration throughout the range of C. sibirica is associated with snow accumulation in autumn. This is due to limited access to food during times of high snow levels. Siberian ibexes can migrate over 100 km between seasons, while also changing up to 2000 m in elevation (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). They reach food covered by 30 to 40 cm of snow by digging with their hooves (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001)

Communication and Perception

Siberian ibexes generally communicate for mating, predator alarm, and recognition. Females recognize their newborn through its scent during the first few days after birth, and rely on sight shortly thereafter (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). Females also call their young for feeding. Communication during the rut often includes physical posturing in which males perform flehmen. Flehmen behavior can be seen to some degree in many different mammalian orders (Eisenberg and Kleiman 1972). It is a common response displayed by males in response to female urine during the rut. Flehmen is generally initiated by a raise and curl of the upper lip, along with shutting the external nares (Keverne 1999). This allows access to the vomeronasal organ (VNO), which aids in chemoreception and determination of female estrus condition (Keverne 1999). (Eisenberg and Kleiman, 1972; Fedosenko and Blank, 2001; Keverne, 1999)

Food Habits

Siberian ibexes are generally diurnal herbivores. They feed nocturnally and eat some fruits, such as dogrose (Rosa) and currants (Ribes hispidulum) (Fedosenko and Blank 2001, Heptner et al. 1988). Daily activity is dominated by feeding and resting or ruminating. The amount of time for each varies with season. During seasons marked with shorter daylight hours, Siberian ibexes spend a greater part of the day feeding than resting (Heptner et al 1988). The amount of green food intake varies between sexes, with males eating up 16 kg a day and females 8 to 10 kg (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001; Heptner, et al., 1988)

Around 140 different plant species are known to be consumed by C. sibirica (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). The species of plants they consume can differ throughout their range and with seasonal availability. Green grasses (Reogneria) are a significant part of the Siberian ibex diet in the spring and summer, along with grasses, shoots, stems, and leaves, which are eaten in autumn (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). Siberian ibexes favor south-facing slopes in winter because decreased snow depth leaves food more accessible. Needles and buds of trees are common food during the winter because of accessibility above the snow. Depending on the amount of water received through food, Siberian ibexes can go multiple days without water, and frequent salt licks throughout the year (Heptner et al. 1988). (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001; Heptner, et al., 1988)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • fruit
  • flowers
  • lichens

Predation

Young Siberian ibexes can emit a bleat to signal danger, while adults give off a whistle. Though Siberian ibexs vocally signal to each other when a predator is near, their best weapon against predation is their ability to maneuver on steep, rocky terrain. The presence of a callus on the carpal joint aids in the ability of Siberian ibex to move up steep rocky slopes (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). They also have soft, elastic pads on their hooves, surrounded by a hard horny material, which increases traction (Heptner et al. 1988, Schaller 1977). Siberian ibexes maintain close proximity to escape terrain. It was found by Fox et al. (1992) that the Siberian ibexes always stayed within 350 m of escape terrain. (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001; Fox, et al., 1992; Heptner, et al., 1988; Schaller, 1977)

Hiding is the primary defense against predators during the first few days of a kid’s life. Siberian ibex kids can be preyed upon by golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), and hiding or staying close to adult animals are the main defense tactics. Snow leopards (Uncia uncia) prey on Siberian ibex more than any other predator (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). Snow leopards often take mature male Siberian ibexes because of their poor post-rut condition. Lynx (Lynx lynx), brown bears (Ursus arctos), and wolves (Canis lupus) also prey on C. sibirica. Wolves are able to kill Siberian ibexes by stopping them before they reach their escape terrain (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001)

Ecosystem Roles

Siberian ibexes can be a significant prey item for many species. Fedosenko and Blank (2001) found the remains of 30 Siberian ibexes over the course of a single snow leopard’s 14 km hunt. Snow leopards are the most common predator of Capra sibirica. (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001)

Siberian ibexes host many different species of ectoparasites and endoparasites. The presence of ectoparasites on Siberian ibexes creates a symbiotic relation with magpies (Pica pica), and other birds (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). These birds benefit from food that is supported on the body of Siberian ibex, while Siberian ibexes benefit from being groomed (Fedosenko and Blank 2001). (Fedosenko and Blank, 2001)

Throughout their distribution, Siberian ibexes browse and graze, impacting vegetation communities. They pose little competition to other ungulates that occupy the same mountain ranges because range overlap is infrequent.

Mutualist Species
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Capra sibirica is mostly sought after by humans for its meat. The hides are used for a number of clothing items. Siberian ibex are also hunted for trophy purposes because of their large horns.

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Siberian ibexes pose little threat to humans, though they have been known to compete with domestic animals for food.

Conservation Status

According to IUCN/SSC, Siberian ibex populations are greater than 250,000 animals, and are considered to be at low risk on the 1996 IUCN Red List (Shackleton 1997). Considering the Siberian ibex at low risk can be deceptive because the rate of habitat loss to livestock is increasing and habitats are becoming more easily accessible via motorized vehicles, increasing poaching (Shackleton 1997). Stringent hunting regulations and protected areas have been developed throughout the Siberian ibex range to protect populations. (Schaller, 1977)

Other Comments

Many ungulates use scent-urination around the time of the rut to communicate (Coblentz 1976). According to Fedosenko and Blank (2001), male Siberian ibexes use their mouths to masturbate during the rut. This is a common behavior for males in the genus Capra (Schaller 1977). There is controversy over whether or not the males are actually masturbating (ejaculating semen) or simply releasing urine when displaying this behavioral characteristic. Based on hundreds of observations of feral goats, Coblentz (1976) believes that what is commonly perceived as masturbation in these animals is actually urination due to the pressure, color, and amount of fluid exiting the penis. (Coblentz, 1976; Fedosenko and Blank, 2001; Schaller, 1977)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Jeffrey Williams (author), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Link Olson (editor, instructor), University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Baskin, L., K. Danell. 2003. Ecology of Ungulates: a handbook of specier in Eastern Europe and Northern and Central Asia. Germany: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Coblentz, B. 1976. Functions of Scent-Urination in Ungulates with Special Reference to Feral Goats (Capra hircus L.). The American Naturalist, 110/974: 549-557.

Eisenberg, J., D. Kleiman. 1972. Olfactory Communication in Mammals. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 3: 1-32.

Fedosenko, A., D. Blank. 2001. Capra sibirica. American Society of Mammalogists, 675: 1-13.

Fox, J., S. Sinha, R. Chundawat. 1992. Activity Patterns and Habitat Use of Ibex in the Himalaya Mountains of India. Journal of Mammalogy, 73/3: 527-534.

Heptner, V., A. Nasimovich, A. Bannikov. 1988. Mammals of the Soviet Union. Artiodactyla and Perissodactyla. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution LIbraries and The National Science Foundation.

Keverne, E. 1999. The Vomeronasal Organ. Science, 286/5440: 716-720.

Schaller, G. 1977. Mountain Monarchs. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Shackleton, D. 1997. Wild Sheep and Goats and their Relatives. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN.