Wildlife in the Alps: Spotlight on the Ibex

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to spot a male alpine ibex (Capra ibex) in the Alps, then you probably would have noticed not only its huge horns, but also its muscular, athletic body. A male can weigh more than a hundred kilograms! And as if that isn’t impressive enough already, the quiet and calm attitude of an ibex gives the animal a proud, almost majestic appearance. However, the most extraordinary feature of an ibex is probably its feet.

Incredible hooves

The alpine ibex is extremely well adapted to life in the high mountains. Their balance is excellent due to their relatively short legs (read: low center of gravity), but it’s their hooves that ensure that alpine ibex can move on the most slippery and steep rock slopes in an incredibly agile way. Some hoofed animals (such as a donkey or a horse) have difficulty walking on rocky and steep trails, but the hooves of an alpine ibex have two parts, an elastic part and a hard part. The elastic part, the sole, “sticks” better to rocks than the soles of my hiking boots.

A close encounter with an ibex in the Aiguilles Rouges Nature Reserve on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Besides, the ibex can spread the two “fingers” of its hoof, allowing it to “grip” protrusions in rocks. The ability to spreads the two fingers also helps while braking on a steep descent. Even the youngest and smallest ibex manage to perform acrobatics in almost perpendicular rock walls. Of course, it is a dangerous terrain for a little one, because one mistake and it might tumble down a steep rock face. However, such steep terrain is a wonderful place to raise youngsters, because here the small ibex are safe against predators.

Close encounters

When you’re hiking in rocky high alpine areas above the treeline on the Tour du Mont Blanc or the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route, you have a very good chance of spotting ibex. And the best thing is that they don’t seem to be scared of humans at all which means that close encounters are very common!

Simone van Velzen

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