Marty’s photo of the day #1778: It’s “CC, HP: ESC Month,” featuring photos and excerpts from my first book, Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents. Today we end the month with an excerpt from my Europe chapter:
Deb and I weren’t hiking in Parque Regional de la Sierra de Gredos to see cows. We wanted to see Spanish ibex, the top animal on our European wish list. A Spanish ibex is a type of mountain goat with ribbed, curved horns. Once a plentiful species, they are now IUCN classified as “near threatened.” As with so many other animals, human activities are responsible for their peril. In this instance, overhunting has reduced ibex numbers to fewer than thirty thousand.
Even though ibex were supposed to be in the area, I wasn’t sure where to look for them. Trying to sound as if I knew what I was talking about, I suggested to Deb, “Watch for ibex mingling with the cows.”
After an hour of hiking, we neared the spot where the valley floor ascended to the lip of the bowl. Between the lip and us was a wide outcrop with another small herd of cows.
“Ibex! I see ibex!” said Deb in a hushed shout.
“I don’t see anything but cows,” I said.
“Look next to the cows.”
“Oh, there! I think you’re right.”
We inched closer before Deb declared, “Yes, they’re definitely ibex.”
At that moment, ibex were my favorite animal in the world. How could I not love an animal that made me look so smart?
We crept along the valley wall to get a better view of the small herd, which contained three adult females and two half-grown kids. The largest of the females stood two and a half feet high at the withers and her horns were roughly eight inches long. While these weren’t the glorious four-foot-high males with four-and-a-half-foot-long horns commonly featured in nature books, we weren’t disappointed. Just seeing an ibex was a thrill.
Although ibex are now a protected species, their long history of being hunted irresponsibly has made them extra wary of humans. One hundred fifty feet was as close as we could get before they spooked. Once we learned their comfort zone, we shadowed them until they climbed up the mountainside and disappeared.