Exploring The Extraordinary Animals Of Land And Air That Call the Mountains Home
It takes a special kind of animal to inhabit the harsh, volatile environment offered in many mountain regions. But yet there are many animals, from small birds and rodents to large mammals that call the mountains their home.
From snow leopards stalking their prey above tree line to marmots living among alpine meadows, there is no shortage of fascinating wildlife inhabiting our planet’s highest places.
Each species has adapted in its own way to the harsh mountain environment, and each plays an important role in the delicate balance of life on these majestic peaks. In this post, we take a look at some of the most incredible mountain animals that live at high elevations around the world.
12 Most Incredible Mountain Animals
Brown Bear – (Ursus Arctos)
Brown Bears, including the Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) are one of the largest predatory animals you will find living in the mountains. They can live in lower altitudes too, and those that do tend not to hibernate through the winter. There is less need, as food is more abundant and the cold weather less harsh at lower altitudes.
Those that live in the mountains however, hibernate through the winter. They hibernate in dens, which are usually located on north-facing slopes an altitude of about 1,800 meters (5,900 feet). Before they hibernate, grizzly bears go through a period of hyperphagia or polyphagia (extreme sensation of hunger or strong desire for eating), and consume a large amount of food. In many areas they are both apex predators and a keystone species.
Populations can be found in many mountainous regions around the world, particularly in North America, Europe, and Asia. They also like to live in coastal and boreal forests. There are a few types of brown bear, and the most common subspecies is the Eurasian Brown Bear.
Brown Bears are omnivores, eating a diet of both plants and animals. Adult males weigh from 136-680 kg (300-1500 lb), while females are typically about two-thirds the size of males.
- Mountain Range: Carpathian Mountains, European Alps, Apennines, Iberian Peninsula, Atlas Mountains, The Rockies, Himalayas, Ural Mountains.
Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex)
The Alpine Ibex is a type of mountain goat that lives in the rocky regions along the snowline above the alpine forests of the European Alps. They are known for their impressive horns, which on a male can grow to be 70 – 140 centimetres (28 – 55 inches) in length. Female horns are slightly shorter, thinner and curve slightly more backwards. Horns are used to defend themselves against predators.
It is closely related to the Spanish Ibex (Capra pyrenaica) and the Middle Eastern Nubian Ibex (Capra ibex nubiana). Ibexes tend to occupy steep, rocky habitats at elevations of between 6,500 – 15,000 feet (2,000 – 4,600 metres). They have a unique hoof structure making it an excellent climber on steep rocks.
Alpine Ibexes are herbivorous ungulates, and eat mostly grasses and leaves, but will also eat flowers, twigs, moss, mushrooms and other fungi. They come down from their steep habitats during late afternoon and evenings to the alpine meadows below to feed.
Mountain Range: European Alps
Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus)
The Mountain Goat is also sometimes known as the Rocky Mountain Goat, in relation to its most common habitat. They are a large, even-toed ungulate mammal found only in North America, mostly around the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades in alpine and sub alpine regions around western North America.
The Mountain Goat resides at high elevations and is a sure-footed climber, often resting on rocky cliffs that predators cannot reach. The Mountain Goat belongs to the subfamily Caprinae, along with 32 other species including true goats, sheep, the chamois and the musk ox.
They seasonally migrate from higher rockslide slopes and alpine meadows in the spring and summer to lower elevations in the winter, but there are more risks to them at lower altitudes so they try to remain above the timberline even in the cold months.
Mountain Range: The Rocky Mountains, Cascade Range
Cougar/Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)
The Cougar – also sometime called the Puma, or Mountain Lion – is a species of wild cat that inhabits an impressive expanse, ranging from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes in South America. In fact, this particular mammal boasts the largest geographic range of any wild, large terrestrial animal in North and South America!
Although Cougars are large cats, they are not classed in the ‘big cat’ category. Instead, they are one of the largest cats of the ‘small cat’ category even though some can match the size of a leopard. It is the fourth heaviest of the New World cats after the leopard, jaguar and tiger.
It prefers habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but it can also live in open plains, coniferous and tropical forests, swamps and deserts. They are particularly populous in the Rockies around the state of Colorado, due to the vast and remote mountain ranges and the abundant availability of food, particularly elk.
Mountain Range: The Andes, The Rocky Mountains,
Himalayan Tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus)
The Himalayan Tahr is a species of wild mountain goat native to the high altitude mountainous regions of Nepal, India, and Tibet. Its distinctive reddish-brown coat helps it to blend in with its rocky habitat, while its short horns and large hooves allow it to traverse steep and difficult terrain.
Living at altitudes of up to 2,500 to 5,000 meters, the Himalayan Tahr is well-adapted to high altitude environments, with a two-layer thick coat that grows longer in winter. It can climb sheer rock faces with ease like other varieties of mountain goat. One advantage it has over others though, is that it can balance very well on its hind legs alone, using the front legs like arms to reach food.
The Tahr is listed as a near threatened species on the IUCN Red List, despite being introduced as an invasive species in several areas throughout the Americas, South Africa and New Zealand.
Mountain Range: The Himalayas
Chiru/ Tibetan Antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii)
The Chiru, also known as the Tibetan Antelope, is a species of wild antelope native to the high-altitude plains and steppes of the Tibetan Plateau in Central Asia. Most live within the borders of China and Tibet, but there are also populations around Northern India and Bhutan. They are a protected species in China, where the Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve was established in the 1990’s for this very purpose.
The Tibetan Antelope are medium-sized animals with a stocky body and long neck; they typically measure between 90 and 105 cm at the shoulder. The species is known for its incredibly soft, light-colored wool which is harvested by local herders to produce shawls and other garments.
The Chiru’s remarkable adaptability has allowed them to live in the extreme conditions of their high-altitude home, making them an impressive example of survival in some of the world’s harshest environments. They are known to live at high elevations up to around 18,000 feet (5,500 meters)!
Mountain Range: The Himalayas
Goa/ Tibetan Gazelle (Procapra picticaudata)
The Goa, also known as the Tibetan Gazelle, is another type of antelope but not to be mistaken with the Tibetan Antelope which are of a different genus. They inhabit the high altitude Alpine meadow and high elevation steppe areas of the Tibetan Plateau/Himalayan region. This includes parts of India and Nepal but the species are mostly restricted to 4 or 5 Chinese Provinces and Tibet.
This majestic creature has adapted to survive at extreme altitudes of up to 5000 meters above sea level, living in the cold and inhospitable alpine climates of that region. The Goa possess a unique combination of physical characteristics, including large ears for better heat dissipation, and long hooves to aid in their mobility on the rocky terrain.
Despite their adaptability and impressive physical attributes, the Tibetan Gazelle is considered a near threatened species on the IUCN Red List.
Mountain Range: The Himalayas
Yak/ Tartary Ox (Bos grunniens)
The Yak is a large, bovid species found in the Himalayan mountains, primarily in parts of China and South Central Asia. It predominantly lives in the Himalayan mountain regions, but is also found widely in Mongolia, and the three main mountain regions within.
Despite its rather intimidating appearance (Males can weigh up to 1,000 kg in the wild!), Yaks are actually gentle animals who are extremely well-adapted to their frigid climate due to their thick double coat of fur, which can range in color from black to reddish-brown. They are known to live in altitudes between 2000 and 6000 meters high.
Yak milk has many uses: it is made into cheese and butter, and can be used for making medicines. Yaks are also domesticated for their meat, leather, and wool. Yak hair is used to make ropes and tents, while their manure can be used as fuel.
Yaks are integral to many Himalayan cultures, serving as beasts of burden and a source of food. This hardy species has proven itself to be an invaluable part of the ecology, culture and economy in its range countries.
Mountain Range: The Himalayas, Altai Mountains, Khangai Mountains, Khentii Mountains
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
The Peregrine Falcon is found worldwide, except for rainforests and cold, dry Arctic regions. They are one of the most widespread terrestrial vertebrate species in the world. These large birds of prey are known for their quick flight and are actually the fastest bird in the world, travelling at speeds over 200 mph when in a dive!
These falcons are predominantly solitary birds except from during the breeding season. They are very territorial, with their home ranges between 177 to 1508 square kilometers. They will live anywhere that provides good nesting space, such as tall trees and high cliffs. However, they’ll also live in urban areas, on top of tall buildings.
Some Peregrine Falcons are migratory and some are not, depending on region in which they live. Those that are migratory, do so along sea coasts, long lake shores, barrier islands and mountain ranges, travelling very long distances.
They can be found in mountain ranges around the globe, as well as at lower altitudes. Despite being at home in the mountains, they also do not appear at extreme altitudes, for example high up in the Himalayas. This is likely due to the thinner air at high altitude, even though a birds lungs are far more efficient than a mammals.
Mountain Range: Widespread globally, including but not limited to – The Appalachian Mountains, Rocky Mountains, The Cairngorms, The Alps, The Pyrenees, The Andes, The Urals
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
The Golden Eagle is a majestic bird of prey native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It is the national bird of Mexico and is easily identifiable by its unique yellow eyes, dark brown body with lighter streaks on the chest and underside, and distinctive wingspan that can reach up to 7.5 feet wide!
While Golden Eagles can and do survive at low altitude, they prefer mountainous, often treeless, habitats, although they require large trees or rock faces for nesting.
The Golden Eagle is renowned for its exceptional eyesight and can spot prey up to 2 miles away. It is also an incredibly powerful hunter, capable of carrying animals as large as a small deer! The Golden Eagle has been honored for centuries by many cultures, who view it as a symbol of strength and courage. Today, it remains an iconic part of the natural world and is protected by various conservation efforts.
Mountain Range: The Cairngorms & Scottish Highlands, The Himalayas, The Urals, The Yukon Mountains, The Alps, The Pyrenees, The Carpathians, The Caucasus
Snow Leopard/ Ounce (Panthera uncia)
The Snow Leopard is a large cat native to some of the most rugged mountain ranges of Central Asia and Southern Asia. It is well known for its beautiful fur, but despite this it remains relatively rare and elusive. It’s range spans around 1,230,000 square kilometres, which extends through 12 countries, from Afghanistan, across the Indian sub-continent, through China, the ‘istans’ (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan) and into Russia.
The Snow Leopard lives at elevations of of 3,000 – 6,000 meters in the alpine and sub-alpine montane regions. During the summer, the snow leopard inhabits mountainous meadows above the tree line. In winter, snow leopards descend to forests at lower altitudes. In the northern part of its range it is also known to live in lower altitudes.
They are generally associated with rocky terrain such as high valley ridges, rocky outcrops and mountain passes. The total wild population of the snow leopard is estimated at between 4,000 and 7,500 individuals. There are also 600 – 700 snow leopards in zoos around the world.
Mountain Range: The Himalayas including the Tibetan Plateau and the Hindu Kush Range
Himalayan Marmot (Marmota himalayana)
The Himalayan Marmot is a large type of ground squirrel native to the Tibetan Plateau and surrounding mountain ranges. In total there are around 15 different species of Marmots, including the Yellow-Bellied Marmot that lives in North America. Generally, habitats do not overlap, but some do meet. Despite this, they are not known to interbreed.
The Himalayan Marmot can be found in the alpine meadows of India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, and Pakistan. This species of marmot is particularly well-adapted to its harsh environment due to several physiological adaptations such as thick fur, a large body size, and the ability to hibernate during the winter months. They also live in colonies, and are known to dig out deep burrows.
These Marmots are an important species in their environment, providing food for both predators and scavengers alike. In addition, it plays an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of their environment.
Mountain Range: The Himalayas including the Tibetan Plateau