Pyrenean ibex

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Pyrenean ibex
Pyrenean Ibex.png
Illustration from 1898
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Genus: Capra
Species: C. pyrenaica
Subspecies: C. p. pyrenaica
Trinomial name
Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica
(Schinz, 1838)

The Pyrenean ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica), Spanish common name bucardo, was one of the four subspecies of the Spanish ibex or Iberian wild goat, a species that is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula. Pyrenean ibex were most common in the Cantabrian Mountains, Southern France and in the northern Pyrenees. This species was common during the Holocene and Upper Pleistocene, during which their morphology, primarily some skulls, of the Pyrenean ibex was found to be larger than other Capra subspecies in southwestern Europe from the same time.

In January 2000, the Pyrenean ibex became extinct, but scientists have attempted to clone DNA from one of the last females; one such clone died seven minutes after being born. Other subspecies survived: the western Spanish or gredos ibex and the southeastern Spanish or beceite ibex, while the Portuguese ibex had already become extinct. Since the last of the Pyrenean ibex went extinct before scientists could adequately analyze them, the taxonomy of this particular subspecies is controversial.


There are multiple theories regarding the evolution and historical migration of the C. pyrenaica into the Iberian peninsula, and the relationship between the different subspecies.

One possibility is that C. pyrenaica evolved from an ancestor related to C. caucasica from the Middle East, at the beginning of the last glacial period (120-80 ky).[2] C. pyrenaica probably moved from the northern Alps through southern France into the Pyrenees area at the beginning of Magdalenian period about 18 kya. If this is the case then C. caucasica praepyrenaica may have been more different from the other three ibex species that lived in the Iberian peninsula than scientists currently know. For example, this would mean that the C. pyrenaica (possible migration 18ky) and C. ibex (300 ky earlier migration) would have evolved from different ancestors and been morphologically more different from their separate genes.[2] It is known that all four subspecies lived together in the Upper Pleistocene time, but scientists are unsure of how much genetic exchange there could have been. The problem with this theory is that genetics suggest that the C. pyrenaica and C. ibex may have shared a more common origin, possibly C. camburgensis.[2]

There are many versions of when C. pyrenaica or C. ibex first migrated to and evolved in the Iberian peninsula. It is possible that C. pyrenaica was already living in the Iberian Peninsula when the ibexes began to migrate through the Alps. Genetic evidence also supports the theory that multiple Capra subspecies migrated to the Iberian region at around the same time period. Hybridization may have been possible, but the results are not conclusive.[2]

Behaviour and physical characteristics[edit]

The Pyrenean ibex had short fur which varied according to seasons. During the summer its hair was short, and in winter the hair grew longer and thicker. The hair on the ibex’s neck remained long through all seasons. Male and female ibex could be distinguished due to color, fur and horn differences. The male was a faded grayish brown during the summer, and they were decorated with black in several places on the body such as the mane, forelegs and forehead. In the winter, the ibex was less colorful. The male transformed from a greyish brown to a dull grey and where the spots were once black, it became dull and faded. The female ibex on the other hand could be mistaken for a deer since its fur was brown throughout the summer. Unlike the male ibex, a female lacked black coloring. Young ibex were colored like the female for the first year of life. [3]

The male had large, thick horns, curving outwards and backwards then outwards and downwards then inwards and upwards. The surface of the horn was ridged, the ridges developing progressively with age. The ridges were said to each represent a year, so the total would correspond to the ibex’s age. The female had short, cylindrical horns. Ibex fed on vegetation such as grass and herbs.[3]

Pyrenean ibex migrated according to seasons. In spring, the ibex would migrate to more elevated parts of mountains where females and males would mate.[citation needed] In spring females would normally separate from the males so they could give birth in more isolated areas. Kids were typically born during May, usually singly. During the winter, the ibex would migrate to valleys that aren’t covered in snow. These valleys allowed them to continue their diet regardless of the change in season.[3]


The species was often seen in parts of France, Portugal, Spain, and Andorra but not as much in northern areas of the Iberian Peninsula. In areas like Andorra and France in the mainland, the Pyrenean ibex became extinct first in the northern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. The Pyrenean ibex was estimated to have a peak population of 50,000 individuals with more than 50 other sub-groups that ranged from the Sierra Nevadas to Sierra Morena and Muela de Cortes.[clarification needed][1] Many of these sub-groups lived in mountainous terrain extending into Spain and Portugal. The last remaining Pyrenean ibex were seen in areas of the Middle and Eastern Pyrenees, below 1,200 meters altitude. However, in areas of southern France and surrounding areas, ibex were foundfrom 350–925 meters to between 1,190–2,240 meters.[2]

The Pyrenean ibex was quite abundant up until the 14th century and numbers did not dwindle in the region until the mid 19th century.[3] Pyrenean ibex tended to live in rocky habitats with cliffs and trees interspersed with scrub or pine trees. However, small patches of rocks in farmland or various areas along the Iberian coast also formed suitable habitat. The ibex was able to thrive well in its environment as long as the appropriate habitat was available, and they were able to disperse rapidly and colonize quickly. Pyrenean ibex formed a useful resource for humans, which may have been a cause to their eventual extinction.[1] Researchers say that the eventual downfall of the Pyrenean ibex may have been caused by continuous hunting and even perhaps that the animal could not compete with the other livestock in the area. However, definite reasons for the extinction of this animal is still unknown.[3]

The subspecies once ranged across the Pyrenees in France and Spain and the surrounding area, including the Basque Country, Navarre, north Aragon and north Catalonia. A few hundred years ago they were numerous, but by 1900 their numbers had fallen to fewer than 100. From 1910 onwards, their numbers never rose above 40, and the subspecies was found only in a small part of Ordesa National Park, in Huesca.


The Pyrenean ibex was one of four subspecies of the Iberian ibex. The first to become extinct was the Portuguese ibex (Capra pyrenaica lusitanica) in 1892.[4] The Pyrenean ibex was the second, with the last individual, a female called Celia, found dead in 2000.

In the Middle Ages, Pyrenean ibex were very abundant in the Pyrenees region but decreased rapidly in the 19th and 20th centuries due to hunting pressure. In the second half of the 20th century only a small population survived in the Ordesa National Park situated in the Spanish Central Pyrenees.[5]

Competition with domestic and wild ungulates also contributed to the extinction of the Pyrenean ibex. Much of the range of the Iberian ibex was shared with sheep, domestic goats, cattle and horses, especially in summer months when it was in the high mountain pastures. This led to interspecific competition (Fandos, 1991; Martínez, 1992) and overgrazing, which particularly affected the ibex in dry years. In addition, the introduction of non-native wild ungulate species in areas occupied by the ibex (e.g. fallow deer and mouflon in the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park) increased the grazing pressure, as well as the risk of transmission of both native and exotic diseases (Fandos & Reig,1992).[6]

The last natural Pyrenean ibex, a female named Celia, was found dead on January 6, 2000. Although her cause of death is known, the reason for the extinction of the subspecies as a whole is a mystery. Some hypotheses include the inability to compete with other species for food, infections and diseases, and poaching. The Pyrenean ibex became the first taxon ever to become "un-extinct", for a period of seven minutes in January 2009, when a cloned female ibex was born alive and survived a short time, before dying from lung defects.[7][8]

Cloning project[edit]

The biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. announced on October 8, 2000 that the Spanish government has agreed to their offer to use nuclear transfer cloning technology in collaboration with other scientific partners to clone the Pyrenean ibex from the tissue that was taken in 1999. Celia, the last ibex, was captured in National Ordesa Park in Huesca, Spain; skin biopsies were taken and cryopreserved in nitrogen. She died a year after tissue was harvested from her ear.

It was expected to be easier than the cloning experiment of endangered gaur (Bos gaurus), as the reproductive biology of goats is better known and the normal gestation period is only five months. In addition, only certain extinct animals are candidates for cloning because of the need for a suitable proxy surrogate to carry the clone to term. ACT has agreed with the government of Aragon that the future cloned Pyrenean ibex will be returned to their original habitat.

Celia provided suitable tissue samples for cloning. However, attempts to clone her have highlighted a major problem: even if it were possible to produce another healthy Pyrenean ibex, there are no males for the female clone to breed with. To produce a viable population of a previously extinct animal, there will need to be genetic samples from many individuals to create genetic diversity in the cloned population.[9] This is a major obstacle to reestablishing an extinct species population through cloning. One solution could be to cross Celia's clones with males of another subspecies, although the offspring would not be pure Pyrenean ibex. A more ambitious plan would be to remove one X chromosome and add a Y chromosome from another still-existing subspecies, creating a male Pyrenean ibex, but such technology does not yet exist and it is not known whether this will be feasible at all without irreparable damage to the cell.

Three teams of scientists, two Spanish and one French, are involved in the cloning project. One of the Spanish teams was led by Dr. Jose Folch of Zaragoza, from the Centre of Food Technology and Research of Aragon.[10] The other teams had researchers from the National Research Institute of Agriculture and Food in Madrid.[7]

The project is coordinated by the Food and Agricultural Investigation Service of the Government of Aragon (Spanish: Servicio de Investigación Agroalimentaria del Gobierno de Aragón) and by the National Institute of Investigation and Food and Agrarian Technology (Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria). The National Institute of Agrarian Investigation (INRA) of France is also involved in the project.

Researchers took adult somatic cells from the tissue and fused them with oocytes from goats that had their nuclei removed. The purpose of removing the nuclei from the goats’ oocytes was to extract all the DNA of the goat, so there would be no genetic contribution to the clone from the egg donor. The resultant embryos were transferred into a domestic goat (Capra hircus), to act as a surrogate mother. The first cloning attempts failed. Of the 285 embryos reconstructed, 54 were transferred to 12 ibex and ibex-goat hybrids, but only two survived the initial two months of gestation before they too died. In 2003, one clone was born alive, but died ten minutes later, due to physical defects in the lungs.[11] There was an atelectasis and an extra lobe in the left lung. This is not surprising, as lung defects have occurred in sheep clones before; the famous clone Dolly had a different sort of lung defect.[7] Atelectasis doesn’t allow normal oxygen absorption to healthy tissues and is often related to a pneumothorax.[12] DNA decomposes even when frozen, and the DNA is worse off because it was taken from an aged individual (Celia was 13). Aged DNA is known to cause cloned animals problems because of shortened telomeres, resulting in decreased lifespans. This means that had the clone survived the initial problems, it still may have had a shortened lifespan.

This was the first attempt to revive an extinct subspecies, although the process technically began before the extinction of the subspecies.


  1. ^ a b c Herrero, J. & Pérez, J.M. (2008). "Capra pyrenaica". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 25 Oct 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Garcia-Gonzalez, Ricardo (2012). "New Holocene Capra Pyrenaica (Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae) Skulls from the Southern Pyrénées". Comptes Rendus Palevol 11 (4): 241–249. doi:10.1016/j.crpv.2011.12.006. Retrieved 24 October 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Pyrenean Ibex - Capra Pyrenaica Pyrenaica". Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  4. ^ Cabrera, A (1911). "The Subspecies of the Spanish Ibex". Proc Zool Soc Lond 66: 963–977. 
  5. ^ Folch, Cocero J.; M.J. Chesne, P. Alabart, J.K. Dominguez,V. Congnie, Y. Roche, A. Fernández-Árias, A. Marti, J.I. Sánchez, P. Echegoyen, E. Beckers, J.F. Sánchez Bonastre, A. Vignon, X. (2009). "First birth of an animal from an extinct subspecies (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) by cloning". Theriogenology 71 (6): 1026–1034. doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2008.11.005. 
  6. ^ Perez, Jesus M.; JOSÉ E. GRANADOS, RAMÓN C. SORIGUER, PAULINO FANDOS, FRANCISCO J. MÁRQUEZ JEAN P. CRAMPE (2002). "Distribution, status and conservation problems of the Spanish Ibex". Mammal 32 (1): 26–39. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2907.2002.00097.x. 
  7. ^ a b c Richard Gray and Roger Dobson (2009-01-31). Extinct ibex is resurrected by cloning. Telegraph. Retrieved on 2012-07-05.
  8. ^ Theriogenology Volume 71, Issue 6, 1 April 2009, Pages 1026–1034
  9. ^ Holt, Bill. "Bucardo Clone". National Geographic. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  10. ^ Pina-Aguilar, Raul E. (2009). "Revival of Extinct Species using Nuclear Transfer: Hope for the Mammoth, True for the Pyrenean Ibex, But is it Time for Conservation Cloning?". Cloning and Stem Cells 11 (3): 341–346. doi:10.1089/clo.2009.0026. 
  11. ^ Zimmer, Carl. "Bringing Them Back To Life". Retrieved 13 September 2014. 
  12. ^ "Atelectasis". Retrieved 21 October 2012. 

External links[edit]

  • Profile at The Sixth Extinction Website