The wild mountain goats frequently found in herds across the mountain ranges of Andalucia are Spanish Ibex. There were, until fairly recently, more subspecies living on the Iberian Peninsula, but now only two exist. The Ibex, which originate exclusively in the mountains of Iberia, are known as ‘cabra montés’. They males are normally brown around the body, with black markings on the chest, flanks and legs in the males, with the females paler in colour. The adult males can reach a weight of between 80-100 kilograms and are approximately double the size of the females. Both sexes have horns with a maximum length of 30 centimetres in females, while those of the males can grow up to 80 centimetres. The horns curve back over their heads and can be flattened or rounded.
Generally shy creatures, these native ungulates (mammals with divided hooves) live around oak or pine woodland on the edges of open rocky areas of altitudes ranging between 200 to 3,300 metres. They favour higher areas during the warmer months when they show considerable skill, climbing onto seemingly impossible cliffs. During the winter months the Ibex move to lower ground where they are more sheltered. The position of herds on a mountain side will also be dictated by the available grazing and domestic stock or human interference.
During the rut, males fight against each other for the alpha position and therefore the right to mate. Younger, weaker specimens will be filtered out by this process, which involves rearing up and clashing horns repeatedly until one male becomes the dominant one. The male Ibex reaches maturity at about three years and it is not until they reach the age of about eight that they take over a group of females. Having established one dominant male per herd, the breeding takes place during November and December. The dominant male will watch over his herd, defending them by standing in a prominent position and rebuffing other male advances. The gestation period is 23-24 weeks with most birthing in mid-May, coinciding with rich spring plant growth which aids good milk production. Once at sexual maturity (18 months of age), the females will normally have one kid per year. The females will wander off to search out a location with thick undergrowth for birthing. The females and young then collect into groups for higher security. Very young kids are vulnerable to predation from foxes, ‘Vulpes vulpes’ and golden eagles, ‘Aquila chrysaetos’.
The lifespan of the Ibex is, on average, around 14 years. In the autumn adults will separate from the juveniles. A dominant male, several subordinate males and numerous females form the adult herds. Juveniles will form smaller, mixed-sex groups. These wild herds spend their days moving gradually across the mountain-side browsing on oaks, as well as grasses and flowering non-woody plants. Within the group, some may be watching out for danger, others resting or grooming. If startled, a warning snort will alert all and the herd will flee, nimbly crossing scree slopes and dangerous precipices if needs be, following a leader to safety.
The Spanish Ibex is under threat of extinction as it is prone to disease such as ‘sarcoptes scabies, which is a skin disease caused by a mite which causes an allergic reaction that can end up killing the animal. Compounding this problem is human interference. The impressive horns are often regarded as a trophy for the hunters, rather than the meat. There are only about 30,000 Spanish Ibex left in Andalucía, which is where most of these wonderful animals live. The highest concentration is situated in the Sierra Nevada National Park in Granada with close to 14,000.