The New International Encyclopædia/Ibex

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

IBEX (Lat., chamois). The ancient name of the ‘steinbock’ of the Alps; and now designating a section or subgenus of goats having the horns flat, and marked with prominent transverse knots in front, whereas those of the typical goats are compressed and keeled in front, and rounded behind. The group contains four species, all inhabitants of high mountainous regions, as described below. All are characterized by a nearly uniform coloration; but the hue varies with age and season, from gray, yellowish, or grizzled, to various degrees of brown, usually lighter on the throat, belly, and inside of the legs than elsewhere. The short summer coat is exchanged in winter for a longer, warmer one, mixed with an under wool. The pairing season of all is in midwinter, and the kids, usually two, are born in early summer. Compare Goat; and see Plate of Wild Goats.

The typical ibex (Capra ibex), called ‘bouquetin’ by the French, and ‘steinbock’ by the Germans, has long been exterminated as a wild animal, but is preserved by the Italian Government in a few valleys of the Piedmontese region. Formerly it seems to have roamed all over the Alps of Switzerland, Savoy, and the Tyrol, but always kept as high as possible, seeking its food, mainly by browsing bushes, at the edge of the snow, and not descending the valleys as does the chamois. Though larger and more powerful than the common goat, it is smaller than the other ibexes. The horns rarely exceed 30 inches in length and have the knobs not prominent, while the beard of the males is so small as to be hardly visible in the summer coat. This ibex is easily tamed when taken young, and interbreeds readily with domestic goats.

The Himalayan ibex (Capra Sibirica) is still numerous, and well known to sportsmen. A ram stands 40 inches high at the withers, has a heavy beard, and the roughly knobbed horns often measure more than 50 inches along the outside curve, and 11 to 12 inches in greatest girth. It inhabits all the mountain ranges of Central Asia from the borders of Persia eastward to the frontier of Tibet, and northward into Siberia; and is found not only on the summits, but on the open plateaus of the Pamir. Ordinarily, however, ibexes remain upon the crags as near as possible to the snow-line. They descend in winter only so far as is necessary to find uncovered pasturage, and often linger at that season at great altitudes where the wind sweeps steep slopes, and allows them to nibble a scanty subsistence from the withered herbage. The resistance to cold and hardiness of constitution generally which this implies are characteristic of the race. They usually go about in small bands, led by old rams, but sometimes gather into herds of 100 or more. In the spring the males separate from the band and betake themselves to the highest crags, while the females seek retired phiccs in which to bring forth their young. In spite of constant pursuit by hunters, the ravages of wild dogs, and destruction by avalanches, these animals seem to maintain their numbers (except near Kashmir), as they are prolific, and accustomed to wandering widely. Ibex-shooting is one of the most exciting and difficult feats offered to the sportsman, because of the nature of the country in which the animals live, and their extreme wariness and ability to escape down precipices and over crags which baffle their pursuers. The books of men like MacIntyre, Kinloch, Markham, Pollok, and other Anglo-Indian sportsmen are full of entertaining accounts of this adventurous hunting, and to these observers we owe most of our knowledge of the haunts and habits of these animals.

The Arabian ibex (Capra Sinaitica) , or ‘beden,’ occupies the rough heights of the Sinaitic Peninsula, Arabia Petræa, Palestine as far as Lebanon, and Upper Egypt. It is rather smaller than the Himalayan, and the knobs on the front of the horns are less prominent and regular. An Abyssinian species, the ‘walie’ (Capra walie), also exists, and differs from the others in the curvature of its horns and a protuberance in the centre of the forehead.