What’s the difference between an ibex and a chamois?

Our guides at Alpenwild get lots of questions about the differences between ibex (Capra ibex) and chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra). These are the two iconic animals that most of our hikers are hoping to see during their time spent in the Alps. So how to tell the difference when you spot one of these hoofed animals in our mountains?  

First of all, they look different!

In my last blog “Spotlight on the Chamois”, I explained that a chamois is easily recognisable due to its short black horns that have a very characteristic shape: they are curved backwards. Males as well as females have these rather unique horns. Both sexes of the alpine ibex also have horns, but they look very different than those of a chamois. The horns of an ibex are ridged and saber shaped. The massive horns of the male ibex are especially impressive!

Another distinctive characteristic of a chamois is the markings on its head. A chamois has a white coloured face with two pronounced black strips running from the eyes towards the nose and a white line running down the centre of its face. While the brownish grey coat of an ibex’ face lacks any pronounced markings.  

Scared or calm?  

If the animal that you spot keeps going about with its daily activities and seems undisturbed by your presence, its most likely that you’ve run into an ibex. Due to their quiet and calm attitude these animals have a proud, almost majestic appearance. However, if you spot a chamois it’s very likely to very quickly run away from you.

‘I’m not scared!’ A proud Ibex shows off it’s impressive horns. Photo by Simone Van Velzen.

This difference between the two animals in their response to humans is easy to explain. Chamois are a popular game species in the Alps which makes them scared of any hikers, but the ibex is protected and so hunting them is prohibited. An ibex seems to know it has nothing to fear from humans, so close encounters are very common.      

On a mountain top?   

If you see a hoofed animal in the full sun, up on a mountain top, it is probably an ibex.  Unlike ibex, you’re not very likely to see chamois on a mountain top above the tree line. Chamois don’t like heat and on hot summer days they’ll go and look for shade on the north side of a mountain or they seek the protection of the forest. Especially in winter, chamois spend lots of their time in the forest.

Would you like to know more?

If you’d like to read more about chamois and ibex, then check out these previous blogs:

Spotlight on the Chamois

Spotlight on the Ibex

And if you have any questions, please feel free to leave a note in the comments below. 

Simone van Velzen

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