Between a rock and a high place

An artificial mound complete with ledges, boulders and small caves has been created to keep the ibex busy.

ibex_521 (photo credit: Stuart Winer)
(photo credit: Stuart Winer)
Sometimes making a mountain out of a molehill can be a good thing. At the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, where a herd of ibex lives alongside the Africa enclosure, keepers installed an artificial mountain to make these agile animals feel more at home.
Ibex are most comfortable as they leap from rock to ledge on mountainsides and cliff faces. In the past, the zoo could offer only a gentle slope with little more than the occasional bump of dusty soil to challenge the nimble-footed, and apparently bored, ibex.
Keepers resolved to improve the quality of life of these wild goats and constructed an artificial mound complete with rocks, ledges, boulders and small caves.
The herd has enthusiastically embraced the new habitat and can now be found sprawled across its ledges, layers and summits throughout the day.
“It changed their lives,” says chief herbivore keeper Gilad Moshe, adding that the project has also been beneficial to visitors, who now pay more attention to the ibex. In the past, visitors walking along the raised walkway leading to the large African enclosure that houses the popular rhinos, giraffes and zebras would walk right past the ibex with barely a glance. Now that the herd has been raised to eye level, they get more attention.
The caves in particular have been a big success, as ibex prefer to seek refuge in a convenient rocky crag during inclement weather, and until the appearance of the faux mount, they had only some unappealing purpose-built shelters at ground level.
Ibex are native to Israel and can be found wandering the Negev desert as they have done for millennia right across the Near East. However, hunting nearly wiped them out, and the first nature protection law that the newly founded State of Israel passed was aimed at reestablishing the ibex population. In celebration of the project, the ibex was selected as the icon of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
The program has been a success and there are now many herds wandering the desert. Hikers will occasionally spot these agile mountain-dwellers, though they are advised to keep their distance. Although ibex are not aggressive, they are much stronger than they appear, and the males in particular can be careless with their impressively long, curved horns.
In the wild, ibex appear to have a curious rite of passage that they enforce on their young. Often, a single female will take on the role of “babysitter” for the herd’s young and will deliberately take her charges to the highest and most forbidding cliff faces in the area. Some of the less sure-footed may slip and plunge to their deaths. Zoologists suspect that the dangerous practice is the herd’s way of weeding out those members who don’t have the strength or agility to survive as one of the herd.