Pyrenean Ibex Facts

Scientific Name: Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica

Pyrenean Ibex,Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica, Hautes Pyrenees, Midi Pyrenees, France

Yann Guichaoua-Photos/Getty Images 

The recently extinct Pyrenean ibex, also known by the Spanish common name bucardo, was one of the four subspecies of wild goat to inhabit the Iberian Peninsula. An attempt to clone the Pyrenean ibex was carried out in 2009, marking it the first species to undergo de-extinction, but the clone died due to physical defects in its lungs seven minutes after its birth.

Fast Facts: Iberian Ibex

  • Scientific Name: Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica
  • Common Name(s): Pyrenean ibex, Pyrenean wild goat, bucardo
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: Length 5 feet; height 30 inches at the shoulder
  • Weight: 130–150 pounds
  • Lifespan: 16 years
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Habitat: Iberian Peninsula, Pyrenees mountains
  • Population: 0
  • Conservation Status: Extinct

Description

In general, the Pyrenean ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) was a mountain goat which was substantially bigger and with larger horns than its extant cousins, C. p. hispanica and C. p. victoriae. It was also called the Pyrenean wild goat and, in Spain, the bucardo.

In the summers, the male bucardo had a coat of short, pale grayish-brown fur with sharply defined black patches. In the winter it grew thicker, combining longer hair with a layer of short thick wool, and its patches were less sharply defined. They had a short stiff mane above the neck, and two very large, thick curving horns that described a half-spiral twist. The horns typically grew to 31 inches in length, with a distance between them of about 16 inches. One set of horns in Musée de Bagnères at Luchon, France, measures 40 inches long. Adult males bodies were just under five feet long and stood 30 inches at the shoulder, and weighed between 130–150 pounds.

Female ibex coats were more consistently brown, lacking the patches and with very short, lyre-shaped and cylindrical ibex's horns. They lacked the male's manes. Young of both sexes retained the color of the mother's coat until after the first year when the males began to develop the black patches.

Pyrenean ibex
 

Habitat and Range

During the summers, the agile Pyrenean ibex inhabited rocky mountainsides and cliffs interspersed with scrub vegetation and small pines. Winters were spent in snow-free upland meadows.

In the 14th century, the Pyrenean ibex inhabited much of the northern Iberian Peninsula and were most commonly found in the Pyrenees of Andorra, Spain, and France, and likely extended into the Cantabrian mountains. They disappeared from the French Pyrenees and Cantabrian range by the mid-10th century. Their populations began to decrease steeply in the 17th century, primarily as a result of trophy-hunting by people who craved the ibex's majestic horns. By 1913, they were extirpated except for one small population in Spain's Ordesa Valley.

Diet and Behavior

Vegetation such as herbs, forbs, and grasses comprised most of the ibex's diet. and seasonal migrations between high and low elevations allowed the ibex to utilize high mountain slopes in the summer and more temperate valleys during the winter with thickening fur supplementing warmth during the coldest months.

Reproduction and Offspring

Rut season for the Pyrenean ibex began in the first days of November, with males conducting ferocious battles over females and territory. The ibex birthing season generally occurred during May when females would seek isolated locations to bear offspring. The most common number of young was one, but twins were born occasionally.

Extinction

While the exact cause of the Pyrenean ibex's extinction is unknown, scientists hypothesize that some different factors contributed to the decline of the species, including poaching, disease, and the inability to compete with other domestic and wild ungulates for food and habitat.

The ibex are thought to have numbered some 50,000 historically, but by the early 1900s, their numbers had fallen to fewer than 100. The last naturally born Pyrenean ibex, a 13-year-old female that scientists named Celia, was found mortally wounded in northern Spain on January 6, 2000, having been trapped beneath a fallen tree.

The First De-Extinction in History

Before Celia died, though, scientists were able to collect skin cells from her ear and preserve them in liquid nitrogen. Using those cells, researchers attempted to clone the ibex in 2009. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to implant a cloned embryo in a living domestic goat, one embryo survived and was carried to term and born. This event marked the first de-extinction in scientific history. However, the newborn clone died just seven minutes after its birth as a result of physical defects in its lung.

Professor Robert Miller, director of the Medical Research Council's Reproductive Sciences Unit at Edinburgh University, commented:

"I think this is an exciting advance as it does show the potential of being able to regenerate extinct species. There is some way to go before it can be used effectively, but the advances in this field are such that we will see more and more solutions to the problems faced."

How You Can Help

The Revive and Restore Initiative of the Long Now Foundation is blazing a trail toward de-extinction. The Foundation's first project to revive an extinct animal using museum-specimen DNA involves the passenger pigeon. "The passenger pigeon was selected for its iconic status and its relative practicality," explains the Foundation's website. "Its DNA has already been sequenced. Some of its fans among scientists have the technical capability to begin the miracle of resurrection. The work will proceed by stages over the coming months."

You can help support the Revive and Restore mission and further the science of de-extinction by donating to the Long Now Foundation.

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