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  • Sophie Koenig

The Pyrenean Ibex

The Pyrenean ibex was a large mountain goat with a body length of 120 –180 cm and horns which grew up to 80 cm (about 2.62 ft). One record-breaking set of horns in the Musée de Bagnères at Luchon in France measured 40 inches long. During the summer, the male species had a coat of short, pale gray and brown fur with sharp black patches. During winter it would grow thicker. The longer hair was combined with a layer of short thick wool, and its patches were less visible. They had a short stiff mane above their neck, and two exceptionally large, thick curving horns that looked a bit like a half-spiral twist. Female ibex coats were more consistently brown, lacking the patches and with noticeably short horns. Another difference was that they lacked the males’ manes. All babies were born with the color of the mother's coat until the first year passed, when the males began to develop the black patches.

During the summers, the agile Pyrenean ibex inhabited rocky mountainsides and cliffs interspersed with scrub vegetation and small pines. Winters were spent in the snow-free upland meadows.

In the fourteenth century, the Pyrenean ibex inhabited much of the northern Iberian Peninsula and were most found in the Pyrenees of Andorra, Spain, and France, and extended into the Cantabrian mountains. They disappeared from the French Pyrenees and Cantabrian range by the mid-10th century. Their populations began to decrease steeply in the 17th century, due to trophy-hunting by people who craved the ibex's majestic horns. By 1913, they were extinct except for one small population in Spain's Ordesa Valley. Vegetation such as herbs, forbs, and grasses were the main part of the ibex's diet. The exact cause of the Pyrenean ibex's extinction is unknown, but scientists have lots of different theories, such as disease, extinction by humans as they were hunted for their precious horns, and the inability to compete with other domestic and wild animals.

In the past, their population was about 50,000, but by the early 1900s, their numbers had fallen to fewer than 100. The last naturally born Pyrenean ibex, a 13-year-old female that scientists named Celia, was found deadly wounded in northern Spain on January 6, 2000, trapped beneath a fallen tree. Before Celia died, though, scientists were able to collect skin cells from her ear and preserve them. Using those cells, researchers attempted to clone the ibex in 2009. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to implant a cloned embryo in a living goat, one embryo survived and was carried to term and born. This groundbreaking event marked the first de-extinction in scientific history. However, the newborn clone died just seven minutes after its birth due to physical defects in its lung.

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