The Markhor (Capra falconeri) is the largest of the goat family and is found in the rugged mountains of central Asia, from Southern Russia to the sparse woodland of the West Himalayas. The markhor is largely found in the Northern Areas of Pakistan especially in Chitral, Ghizar and Hunza regions.
Markhors live at altitudes of 500 to 3,500 metres (1,600 to 11,000 feet) depending on season, summer is spent at higher altitudes and winter at lower altitudes. The Markhor is the national animal of Pakistan.
Markhors measure 132 – 186 centimetres in length, stand 65 – 115 centimetres (26 – 45 inches) high at the shoulder and weigh around 40 – 110 kilograms (88 – 240 pounds). They have a tail length of 8 – 20 centimetres (3.2 – 8 inches).
Male and female markhors are similar in appearance with a tan colored coat with white underparts and a black and white pattern on their legs (males are a lighter tan color). They have long, shaggy, white fur on their necks and chest which can grow quite long, and a black colored face.
Both male and female markhor have corkscrew shaped horns that can grow to 160 centimetres (63 inches) on the males and up to 25 centimetres (9.8 inches) on the females.The horns on a markhor may be straight or flare outward, depending on the subspecies. The males have a long beard on the chin.
The markhor prefers arid cliffside habitats in sparsely wooded mountainous regions as well as the Middle Asian Mountains Temperate Forests. Markhors try to avoid deep snow.
Markhors are grazing animals in the summer and browsing animals in the winter. The markhors diet consists of tussocks of grass, leaves and other vegetation. Like the Ibex, they stand on their hind legs to eat leaves and shoots from trees. The markhor forages 8 – 12 hours daily and it is usually active all day except for several hours in the middle of the day, when it rests and chews its cud.
Markhors are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), active early in the morning and late afternoon. Male markhors are generally solitary while females gather into herds of up to 9 individuals. Population densities in Pakistan range from 1 – 9 animals per square kilometre. The markhors alarm call resembles the call of the common domestic goat.
Markhors are agile and nimble creatures that can climb and jump over rocky terrain with ease. In the winter months the markhor descends to lower altitudes to avoid extreme cold.
Main predators of the markhor include the wolf, snow leopard, leopard, lynx and humans.
Mating season begins when the male markhors enter into ‘rut’ and fight for the attention of the females. Fights involve horn locking and then twisting and pushing until one male falls over.
Markhors reach maturity at around 18 – 30 months. Mating season occurs during winter. The females gestation period lasts 135 – 170 days after which 1 to 2 young (kids) are born. Markhor kids are weaned at about 5 – 6 months. The life span of a markhor is at least 12 – 13 years.
Markhor Conservation Status
The markhor is classed as an endangered species by the IUCN, meaning it is in danger of facing extinction in the near future if conservation efforts are not maintained. Numbers between 2,000 and 4,000 exist in the wild.
There are 5 sub species of markhor:
Kashmir Markhor (Capra falconeri cashmiriensis)
Astor Markhor (Capra falconeri falconeri)
Bukharan Markhor (Capra falconeri heptneri)
Sulaiman Markhor (Capra falconeri jerdoni)
Kabul Markhor (Capra falconeri megaceros)
Each subspecies has its own status: both Capra falconeri falconeri and Capra falconeri megaceros are endangered, while Capra falconeri heptneri is critically endangered.
The reasons for the markhors decline include intensive hunting (for trophies, meat and the Asian medicine market), disturbance and loss of habitat due to expanded human settlement and competition from domestic livestock.