Walia Ibex Description
With its striking colouration and magnificent, arching horns, the walia ibex is an unforgettable sight as it roams the jagged mountain cliffs of northern Ethiopia. These sturdy animals have a beautiful chocolate-brown to chestnut-brown coat that is greyish-brown around the muzzle, paler grey around the eyes, legs and rump, and whitish on the belly and inside of the legs. Contrasting black and white markings pattern the legs and mature males boast a distinguishing black beard. Both males and females possess horns, but the males’ are much larger and more imposing, curving backwards in an elegant arc over the body, sometimes reaching lengths of over 110 cm. Females are smaller than males and paler in colour, with shorter, thinner horns. The differentiation between species and subspecies status in ibexes is very controversial and remains somewhat debated, with all species previously classified under Capra ibex.
Walia ibex biology
The walia ibex is a grazer and a browser, feeding on bushes, herbs, lichens, shrubs, grass, and creepers, and is often seen stood up on its hind legs to reach the young shoots of giant heath. Activity is mainly crepuscular, and these ibex can often be seen sunning themselves on rocky ledges in the morning and evening. Males form relatively large bachelor groups, while females and their young may be seen in groups or, less frequently, singly with their kid. Rutting behaviour is displayed throughout the year, with a peak from March to May, which involves male ibex competing for herd dominance and access to females by postures, head tosses and fights. These displays can be quite dramatic, with opponents rearing up on their hind legs, and then lunging forwards to clash heads and horns with incredible, jarring force. Single offspring, or rarely twins, are born after a gestation period of 150 to 165 days, and sexual maturity is reached at one year old.
Walia ibex range
Confined to the Simien Mountains of northern Ethiopia, with the greatest concentration now occurring within the Semien National Park, largely along 25 kilometres of the northern escarpment.
Walia ibex habitat
An inhabitant of steep, precipitous cliffs between 2,500 and 4,500 metres. Vegetation required includes undisturbed juniper and other mountain forest, sub-alpine grasslands and scrub, in addition to a year-round supply of water.
Walia ibex threats
Its inaccessible habitat afforded a degree of protection to the walia ibex until the arrival of modern firearms, after which the population rapidly declined. Subsequently, this ibex has suffered extensive hunting by local people for its meat, hides and horns. The horns have been used by local people to make drinking mugs, and also as trophies by sportsmen to decorate their homes. Additionally, important habitat has been threatened by encroaching settlement, livestock grazing and cultivation. Road construction is fragmenting habitat and facilitating traffic, which increases the chance of erosion and noise disturbance. In 1963, it was estimated that between just 150 and 200 individuals remained but, with the creation of the Semien National Park around 1969, poaching appeared to be brought under control. The species is now reported to number over 500 and to be on the increase. A major conservation problem remaining, however, is that the natural habitat left is extremely limited.
Walia ibex conservation
In 1969, the Semien National Park was established to protect the habitat and the endangered wildlife it sustained, and the walia ibex became a ‘flagship’ species for the area. The park was also placed on the World Heritage List in 1978. Guards were appointed from Geech to Mietgogo to curb local poaching and illegal cultivation and burning of habitat, resulting in a steady increase in numbers in the past fifteen years. It can be difficult to enforce the current protection laws and human encroachment continues, but a recent report suggests that hunting now seems to be almost non-existent. It appears, therefore, that the presence of park scouts is having some success in this respect, since local attitudes do not seem to have changed to demonstrate awareness or concern for the plight of these animals. Propagating a greater awareness and understanding of the grave position of the magnificent walia ibex, both amongst the local communities and government officials, is therefore an important focus for future conservation efforts in the battle to save this Endangered species.