PYRENEAN IBEX | THE FIRST DE-EXTINCTION ANIMAL
The Cantabrian Mountains, Southern France, and the northern Pyrenees were home to the Pyrenean ibex. During the Holocene and Upper Pleistocene, this species was widespread, and its morphology, particularly certain skulls, were discovered to be greater than that of other Capra subspecies in southern Europe at the time.
The Pyrenean ibex became extinct in January 2000. The western Spanish or Gredos ibex and the southeastern Spanish or beceite ibex have both survived, while the Portuguese ibex has already gone extinct. The taxonomy of the Pyrenean ibex is disputed because the last of the Pyrenean ibex died out before biologists could properly study them.
The evolution and historical migration of C. pyrenaica into the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the relationships between the several subspecies, are all discussed. At the beginning of the last glacial epoch, C. pyrenaica might have developed from an ancestor linked to C. caucasica from the Middle East. At the beginning of the Magdalenian era, C. pyrenaica traveled from the northern Alps to southern France and into the Pyrenees region. If this is the case, C. caucasica praepyrenaica may have been more distinct from the Iberian Peninsula’s other three ibex species than scientists presently believe. For example, the C. pyrenaica and C. ibex would have originated from distinct forebears and would have morphologically differed more from their distinct genes. All four subspecies lived together throughout the Upper Pleistocene epoch, but scientists aren’t clear how much genetic exchange took place. The difficulty with this argument is that genetic evidence suggests C. pyrenaica and C. ibex originated from a single ancestor, likely C. camburgensis.
Many theories exist on when C. pyrenaica or C. ibex originally arrived in the Iberian Peninsula and developed. When the ibex began to move over the Alps, C. pyrenaica was likely already present in the Iberian Peninsula. Multiple Capra subspecies arrived to the Iberian region about the same period, according to genetic data.
The Pyrenean ibex was one of four Iberian ibex subspecies. The Portuguese ibex was the first to go extinct in 1892. The Pyrenean ibex was the second, with the last known specimen, Celia, discovered dead in 2000.
Pyrenean ibex were common in the Pyrenees throughout the Middle Ages, but their numbers plummeted in the 19th and 20th centuries owing to hunting pressure. Only a tiny population survived in the Ordesa National Park in the Spanish Central Pyrenees in the second part of the twentieth century.
The downfall of the Pyrenean ibex was aided by competition with domestic and wild ungulates. During the summer, when it was in the high mountain meadows, it shared most of its habitat with sheep, domestic goats, cattle, and horses. This resulted in interspecific competition and overgrazing, which harmed the ibex in particularly dry years. Furthermore, the introduction of non-native wild ungulate species into ibex habitat increased grazing pressure and the possibility of disease transmission, both native and foreign. On January 6, 2000, the last wild Pyrenean ibex, a female called Celia, was discovered dead. Although her cause of death is known, the reason for the subspecies’ demise remains unknown. Poaching, illnesses, and the inability to compete for food with other species are some of the possibilities.
On July 30, 2003, the Pyrenean ibex became the first taxon to be declared “undead” when a cloned female ibex was born alive and lived for several minutes before succumbing to lung abnormalities.