status: Endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA
range: Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
Description and biology
The markhor is one of the largest members of the goat family. An average markhor has a head and body length of 55 to 70 inches (140 to 195 centimeters) and a shoulder height of 26 to 40 inches (66 to 102 centimeters). Its tail measures 3 to 5.5 inches (8 to 14 centimeters). The animal may weigh between 70 and 240 pounds (30 and 110 kilograms). Males are substantially larger than females.
Male markhors have unique corkscrew-shaped horns that are very thick and heavy. They also have a large beard and a long, shaggy mane at the base of their neck. If a female has a beard, which is rare, it is small. The coat of both sexes varies in length and color with the seasons. In summer, a markhor's coat is short and reddish brown. In winter, it is long, silky, and gray.
Markhors are active during the day, grazing on grasses and herbs or browsing (feeding on the tender shoots, twigs, and leaves) on shrubs and low trees. Wolves, leopards, and snow leopards often prey on the markhor.
Males generally live by themselves, while females and young live in groups of 10 to 12. During the winter mating season, males compete with each other over the right to mate with females. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of about 155 days, a female markhor gives birth to one or two young.
Habitat and current distribution
Markhors inhabit rocky areas, open forested slopes, and meadows in the rugged mountains of central Asia. Their range extends from the western end of the Himalayas in northwestern India to southern Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
There are three subspecies of the markhor: the Kabal markhor (Capra falconeri megaceros), the straight-horned markhor (Capra falconeri jerdoni), and the Tajik markhor (Capra falconeri heptneri). Kabal and straight-horn markhors are found primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tajik markhors occupy southern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. With population numbers ranging from 700 to just over 3,000, all three subspecies are in danger of extinction.
History and conservation measures
Excessive hunting, primarily for the markhor's horns, is the main reason for the animal's decline. As the human population increases in the markhor's range, so does the destruction of its habitat. Trees are cut down for timber, forested land is cleared to create agricultural land, and domestic sheep and goats compete with the markhor for food.
Twenty-seven protected areas have been established in the markhor's range. The level of safety in these areas, however, is limited by political unrest and military activity in the region. In addition, most markhor populations are very small and often isolated from each other, making conservation efforts difficult.
IBEX (Heb. יָעֵל, ya'el; av, jps "wild goat"), the wild goat Capra ibex nubiana, a wild animal permitted for food. Only the ibex and the gazelle have survived from over ten species of cloven-hoofed ruminants which inhabited Ereẓ Israel in former times. Because of its tasty meat, the ibex was much sought after by hunters but escaped extinction through its ability to exist on precipitous mountains in desert regions, such as En-Gedi, Elath, and the Negev heights. Able to jump from rocks and to climb steep rock faces, it was called ya'el in Hebrew (and waʿl in Arabic), a word derived from the root meaning "to ascend." The "rocks of the ibex" in the neighborhood of En-Gedi have served as a hiding place at various times. David fled there from Saul (i Sam. 24:1–3) and Bar Kokhba's fighters took refuge in the caves.
Ibex live in herds. The male has horns reaching up to 39 in. (one meter) in height, the female short, sharp ones. The beauty of the ibex and the remarkable way it lives among the rocks of the desert have been used as poetic motifs (Job 39:1; Ps. 104:18); the name ya'alat ḥen (a graceful female ibex) is given to a beautiful woman (Prov. 5:19). Jael (Judg. 4:17) and Jaalah (Ezra 2:56), both derived from the Hebrew for ibex, occur in the Bible as women's names. A shofar made of the long horn of an ibex was blown in the Temple on the New Year (rh 3:3) and to proclaim the Jubilee year (rh 3:5).
I. Aharoni, Torat ha-Ḥai, 1 (1923), 85; F.S. Bodenheimer, Animal Life in Palestine (1935), 112. add bibliography: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 239.