Capra falconerimarkhor

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Geographic Range

Scattered populations of Capra falconeri, first described by Wagner in 1839, and commonly referred to as markhors, may be found throughout the arid and steppe regions of the western Himalayas. Countries of discontinuous distribution are limited to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. (Huffman, 2004; Nowak, 1999)

Habitat

Capra falconeri is adapted to mountainous terrain between 600 m and 3600 m elevation. Moreover, the presence of C. falconeri is strongly associated with scrub forests made up primarily of oaks (Quercus ilex), pines (Pinus gerardiana), and junipers (Juniperus macropoda). (Nowak, 1999)

  • Range elevation
    600 to 3600 m
    1968.50 to 11811.02 ft

Physical Description

Capra falconeri is highly sexually dimorphic in size. Males weigh between 80 and 110 kg, whereas females weigh only 32 to 50 kg. Body length varies between 140 and 180 cm, and the tail may add an additional 8 to 14 cm to the total length.

The relatively short coat of C. falconeri can range in color from light tan to dark brown, and even black. Capra falconeri differs from Capra ibex in that it lacks the extremely dense winter underwool possessed by the latter. Fringed beards are present in both sexes, but are thicker, longer, and more distinct in male markhors.

Light and dark color patterns, typical of all C. falconeri subspecies, are present on the lower legs. Capra falconeri lacks the knee tufts, inguinal and suborbital glands present in many species of goats inhabiting mountainous regions. (Huffman, 2004; Nowak, 1999; Roberts, 1997)

Males and females both posses extremely bold, flared, corkscrew-like horns. These horns twist outward and may reach lengths up to 160 cm in males and 24 cm in females. The angle and direction of horn curvature varies among the seven subspecies of C. falconeri. Horn color varies from dark to reddish-brown. (Roberts, 1997)

Although some might mistake C. falconeri for other members of the genus from a distance, the horns of markhors make them quite unique in appearance. Northern populations of C. falconeri can be easily distinguished from Capra aegagrus by the dorsal crest and lower hanging beard in C. falconeri, as well as the differences in horn morphology and coloration. (Huffman, 2004; Nowak, 1999; Roberts, 1997)

  • Range mass
    32 to 110 kg
    70.48 to 242.29 lb
  • Range length
    140 to 180 cm
    55.12 to 70.87 in

Reproduction

Like most ungulates, C. falconeri does not mate monogamously. Markhors breed annually, with males competing aggressively during the rut for the right to sire the offspring of female herds. (Nowak, 1999)

Capra falconeri breeds annually, with the rut occurring in the autumn and winter months. It is during this time that solitary males may temporarily join female herds.

Pregnancy lasts 135 to 170 days. Each pregnancy can produce 1 or 2 offspring. Weaning occurs at the age of 5 or 6 months. Young typically remain with their mother until breeding season. Reproductive maturity occurs at the age of 18 to 36 months, and is later in males than in females. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Markhors breed annually.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs during fall and winter months.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    4.5 to 5.67 months
  • Range weaning age
    5 to 6 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    18 to 30 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    36 months

Markhors are usually born in the spring and summer months of May and June. The young are initially born in a shallow earthen hollow. They are able to walk soon after birth, and can travel with the mother. Mothers provide nourishment (milk) and protection to their growing young. They stay with the mother for approximately 6 months, although there are several reports of kids remaining with the mother thereafter. Males are not reported to participate in parental care. (Burrand, 1925)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • inherits maternal/paternal territory

Lifespan/Longevity

The lifespan of C. falconeri ranges from 11 to 13 years. The species is both hardy and resilient, and as a result, small herds may be successfully reared and maintained in captivity. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    11 to 13 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    10 to 13 years

Behavior

Capra falconeri is largely diurnal, although is reported to be most active in the early morning and late afternoon hours. Markhors forage up to 12 or 14 hours per day, including a resting period to chew cud.

Females are social and travel in herds that contain, on average, 8 to 9 individuals. This is significantly smaller than the average herds of Capra ibex and Capra aegagrus. Herd composition is primarily female, with males temporarily joining during the rutting season. Males are otherwize solitary. (Roberts, 1997)

Although most markhors move to lower elevations, and subsequently milder conditions, during the winter, several populations of C. falconeri have been documented at higher elevations. (Nowak, 1999; Roberts, 1997)

Home Range

Population densities in Pakistan range from 1 to 9 individuals/sq km. The range of such herds is often extremely limited as a result of the mountainous terrain which Markhors inhabit. (Roberts, 1997)

Communication and Perception

Considering the relatively open and exposed habitat area of C. falconeri, it is not surprising that this mammal possesses intensely keen eyesight. The sense of smell is also extremely developed. Both of the aforementioned senses are utilized in territory recognition and predator detection. Capra falconeri continually scans its environment for the presence of predators. Markhor exhibits highly calculated and intense movements in response to predator detection.

Additionally, during the birthing season, female markhors have been documented giving a distinctive nasal call when approaching their young.

Tactile communication is used in the rut, as males compete with one another for mating opportunities. (Burrand, 1925)

Food Habits

As is true of other large, mountain-dwelling ungulates, C. falconeri maintains a strictly herbivorous diet composed of a variety of grasses in the spring and summer months. During the autumn and winter months, it switches over to eatingleaves, twigs, and shrubs. Markhor diets include, but are not limited to, Pennisetum orientale, Enneapogon persicum, Hippophae rhamnoides, and Quercus ilex. (Nowak, 1999; Schaller, 1975)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems

Predation

Although rare, documentation exists of golden eagles preying upon young markhors. Humans hunt markhors, although they have been unable to penetrate several mountainous strongholds of markhor populations. Adult and young markhors are also preyed upon by Himalayan lynx, snow leopards, wolves, and panthers. (Burrand, 1925; Nowak, 1999; Roberts, 1997)

Ecosystem Roles

Markhors aid in the dispersal of seeds of the wild grasses that compose their diet. Additionally, C. falconeri serves as an important food source for several large mountain mammals, including Himalayan lynx, snow leopards, wolves, and panthers. As a result, markhor populations are usually small and composed of strong and healthy individuals. (Roberts, 1997; Wilson, and Reeder, 1993)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Mutualist Species
  • grey goral (Naemorhedus goral)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Markhors are heavily hunted by humans during the winter months. It is during this time that the majority of markhors descends to lower elevations in search of forage. (Roberts, 1997; Schaller, 1975)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Capra falconeri does not have any particular negative economic impact on humans. These mammals are relatively docile, and will quickly sprint away upon detection of a human. Although the majority of the terrain in which markhors live is extremely arid and mountainous, they are facing competition from livestock, such as domestic goats and sheep. (Schaller, 1975)

Conservation Status

Capra falconeri is prized among trophy hunters and members of the Asian medicine market. They face habitat competition from both domestic livestock and local agriculture. As a result, all populations of feral C. falconeri have been steadily declining over the past 40 years.

Since 1976, kabul (C. falconeri megaceros), straight-horned (C. falconeri jerdoni), and chithan markhor (C. falconeri chiltanensis), have been declared endangered by the USFWS. In addition, C. falconeri was classified as endangered and conservation-dependant in 1996 by the IUCN. The latter classification indicates that the long-term survival of this species is heavily dependent on the initiation and maintenance of conservation programs.

Other Comments

Markhors are the national animals of Pakistan. Interestingly, the common name, markhor, is thought to have either originated from the Persian words “mar” and “khor”, loosely translated as “snake-eater”, or from the Pushto words “mar” and akhur”, translated as “snake-horn”. Several linguistic camps favor the latter theory, as it seems to refer to the shape of markor horns. Since the species is entirely vegetarian, it would not make much sense to lable it and eater of snakes. ("World Ecoregion Profile", 2001; Roberts, 1997; "World Ecoregion Profile", 2001)

Seven distinct subspecies of C. falconeri have been documented. Each can be distinguished from the others upon examination and notation of respective shape, size, and curvature of the horns. (Schaller, 1975)

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Nora Cothran (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

drug

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

2000. "The Wild Nature of Turkestan" (On-line). Accessed April 27, 2004 at http://www.kz/eng/animals/intro.html.

World Wildlife Fund. 2001. "World Ecoregion Profile" (On-line).

Western Himalayan subalpine conifer forests
. Accessed October 01, 2004 at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/im/im0502.html.

Burrand, M. 1925. Big Game Hunting in the Himalayas and Tibet. London: Herbert Jenkins.

Huffman, B. 2004. "Capra falconeri (Markhor)" (On-line). The Ultimate Ungulate Page. Accessed June 02, 2005 at http://www.ultimateungulate.com/Artiodactyla/Capra_falconeri.html.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Roberts, T. 1997. The Mammals of Pakistan. Pakistan, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schaller, G. 1975. Distribution and Status of the Markor (Capra falconeri). Biological Conservation, 7: 185-198.

Wilson,, D., D. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.