Markhor have some of the neatest looking horns around. I’ve seen them up close and personal, when I was feeding a small herd of them once. They were friendly enough, but even friendly animals can be dangerous if they’re excited about getting food and have giant spiralled horns on their heads. Still, they didn’t actually hurt me so I’ve always had a bit of a fondness for markhor.
Markhor are a species of goat that are found in Asia, in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They are Pakistan’s national animal. Markhor are well suited to mountainous areas, and so are primarily found in the Himalayas. They prefer areas with some tree cover, mainly forests with oak, pine and juniper trees.
Markhor can be fairy big, with males reaching 110 kg and 180 cm. Females aren’t nearly as impressive, with maximum weights of only 50kg. Their fur colour ranges from tan to black, and is fairy short and light for an animal that lives in the cold of the mountains. Like dwarves, both male and female markhor have beards, but males have much larger ones. Both sexes also have the markhor’s characteristic corkscrew horns, which can get to 160 cm in length in males.
Male markhor may be too intimidating for females to handle year-round, because females herd together while males live solitary lives. The females only let males join them during the rut, when males compete for the right to mate with a herd. Rutting occurs in the fall, so that young can be born in the spring months. Mothers give birth to one or two kids, who stay with her until the next breeding season.
Like most ungulates, markhor are herbivorous, feeding on grasses in the spring and summer and leaves and branches during the winter. Markhor tend to occupy higher elevations during the summer, when the weather is nicer, moving to lower areas when things get really cold and nasty. Predators of markhor include lynx, snow leopards, wolves and bears. To avoid these, markhor stay on high alert, using their excellent sight and smell to detect potential threats. When they are targeted, the goats are very agile and quick to escape threats.
One threat that markhor have much more trouble defending against is human hunting. They are hunted for their meat and fur, and especially for those fancy horns of theirs. In some areas Markhor are protected by law, and in others simply by the inaccessible terrain they inhabit. Still, they have become endangered, though recent conservation efforts have helped increase population size. Let’s hope that trend continues!
Cover image credit: Peter Hopper via http://usfws.tumblr.com/post/79262124992/meet-the-species-straight-horned-markhor