Extremadura: Iberian Ibex

There was one Extremaduran animal that stood out to me when looking around at places to visit in the region. The first species to ever become 'un-extinct' and one of Europe's rarest mammals - the Iberian Ibex.

There are four known subspecies of Iberian Ibex, two of which are extinct. The subspecies of interest to us in Extremadura was capra pyrenaica victoriae ; the Western Spanish Ibex or Gredos Ibex, found only in particular small mountain ranges in Central Spain, in particular the Sierra de Gredos - the range on the northern border of Extremadura. A small population still survives in a national park in Northern Portugal as well.

The other surviving subspecies, the Southeastern Spanish Ibex, is endemic to mountain ranges in Southern Spain, particularly in Andalucia. The other two subspecies, the Portuguese and Pyrenean Ibex went exctinct in 1892 and 2000 respectively. Interestingly though, the Pyrenean Ibex is the first ever taxon to become 'un-extinct', when a clone was born in January 2009. The clone died shortly after birth due to lung defects, but the project, which is still ongoing, is raising questions about the possibilities of bringing back more extinct species using modern cloning techniques.

As for our trip, we headed into the Sierra de Gredos mountains in the north of Extremadura to find one for ourselves. And we couldn't have chosen a better day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky as we arrived in the small hill town of Guijo de Santa Barbara. From there, we took a trail up into the valley, keeping our eyes out for the ibex on the hillsides around us.

The Sierra de Gredos landscape
The town of Guijo de Santa Barbara

About two hours into the walk, our chance came. A local man passed us on the trail, and pointed out a small group of animals on the opposite ridge. Iberian Ibex! There was a group of around half a dozen females grazing on the hillside opposite, almost invisible to the naked eye. We watched this group for 10 or so minutes as they effortlessly traversed the steep rocks and slopes. It was then that we saw more movement to the left. There was a group of male ibex heading towards the females. And they were very impressive. Their huge horns stood out against the rock, and their colouring was noticeably different as well, with black legs and bellies. It wasn't rutting season, so we weren't going to see any fighting amongst the males, but they were impressive enough just stood on the rocks, showing off their physical prowess.

The group of females
The males

After a while, a small crowd had formed around us, eager to see what we were looking at. The ibex of the mountains are difficult to see for a number of reasons. They're small in comparison to the huge landscape they call home, and with such a range to feed over, you can never be sure they'll be anywhere near a path or trail.

But those groups weren't the only ibex we saw. We were lucky enough to see another very big male alone on a ridge on the way back to Guijo de Santa Barbara, with bigger horns than any of the males we had seen earlier. He was very impressive as he stood up and stretched on the sun-baked rocks. It was a real treat to see such a magnificent animal so close and so clearly, and in such an amazing setting.

Male Iberian Ibex

The Iberian Ibex are a hidden gem of Extremadura, and an animal that the majority of visitors to the region go without seeing. Being renowned for its birdlife, it can be easy to gloss over other animals in Extremadura. But the ibex are, in my opinion, an Extremaduran animal that is not to be missed.


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