Range:The markhor is a unique species of goat found in the mountains of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. They inhabit upper elevations, with vegetation as their food source. They are skilled climbers and will scale steep rocky terrain to escape predators such as snow leopards and wolves.
Markhors survive on the steep arid hillsides of the Himalayan Mountains in Central Asia, including the countries of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. In the summer months, they can be found as high as 13,000 feet above sea level, foraging on grasses; in the winter, they avoid deep snow.
Markhors are the largest of the wild goat species. They have broad hooves and striking spiral horns that can grow to 5 feet long in mature males; female horns are smaller, around 2 feet. The markhor's coat is reddish gray with a dark stripe running the length of its back. Males have thick, long beards, manes and tufts of hair on their legs, while females may only have thin, short beards.
Both male and female markhors have tightly curled, corkscrew-like horns. They start close together at their heads and spread outwards at the tips. In males, horns can grow up to 160 centimeters (65 inches) long – that’s the same height as an average 14-year-old boy. In females, horns are much smaller at only 25 centimeters (10 inches).
Female markhors live in herds while males only join herds during the breeding season. Markhors are most active during the early morning and late afternoon. Their wide hooves help them maintain stable footing when climbing their mountainous habitat. During the warm spring and summer months, they migrate to higher altitudes on the mountains. During the late fall, they descend to lower altitudes to graze on more plentiful vegetation at the tree line.
The markhor's breeding season is from April to June. One to two young are born after a 155-day gestation period. Females reach sexual maturity at around 2 years of age. Males reach sexual maturity at around 4 to 5 years of age.
- The Markhor is a large, stocky goat with relatively short legs and broad hooves. Head body length is 140 to 180 cm. Males weigh from 80 to 110 kgs, females are considerably smaller and lighter, weighing form 32 to 40 kg.
- They have a distinctive mane and unmistakable straight or flared, usually deeply-spiralled horns. The coat has a reddish-grey colour with a dark brown dorsal stripe extending from the shoulders to the base of the tail. The Coat length and colour varys according to the season: it is longer and greyer in winter, and shorter and yellower in summer. Males have an extensive dark chin beard, (present but very small in some females), a long shaggy mane of mixed grey and white hairs extending from the neck down the chest, a dark crest (the hairs of which do not stand erect but hang down the neck) and tufts of pale hair on the legs.
- Horns are borne by both sexes, but males have larger and much heavier, longer and more spiraled horns. They are up to 160 cm long in males and up to 25 cm in females. The overall shape and tightness of the twists is variable between populations. Markhors have been known to climb trees in search of nutritious leaves. One was sighted on the branch of an oak tree about six meters (19 feet) above the ground, calmly munching on leaves.
Markhor populations have been steadily declining over the past 40 years. Today, only about 2,500 of these animals remain in the Western Himalayas. Markhors’ distinctive horns are a big part of their downfall: they are prized both among trophy hunters and for use in Asian medicine. In the summer, markhors live high up in the mountains in places that are difficult for people to reach. During the winter months, when these animals move to lower elevations in search of food, they are heavily hunted by humans.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies markhor as Endangered, with fewer than 2,500 animals remaining in the wild. Their impressive twisted horns and thick fur make them a target for trophy hunters and poachers. They are also susceptible to habitat loss from expansion of land used for domestic livestock.