In historical times, C. walie always appears to have had a very restricted range (Yalden & Largen, 1992). This species is currently found only in the Lemalimo to Walia Kend-Silki sectors of the Simien Mountains. in northern Ethiopia
Categorical-discrete (CD) distribution model
This species is strictly associated with steep mountainous areas with long-grass savannah, bushes, trees, and forests (Yalden & Largen, 1992; Nievergelt, 1981; Kingdon, 1997). The Walia ibex is a herbivore and a browser. Feeds on bushes, herbs, lichens, shrubs, grasses, and vines. One study found that the percentages of each of these vary from 30% (shrubs) to 10% (vines). (Dunbar 1978)
IUCN threat category
Critically Endangered (CR: criterion C2b).
The habitat of the Walia Ibex is High Semyen, the spectacular high mountain terrain of Ethiopia. In the earth’s long history of violent geographic changes, the most recent volcanic upheavals took place in East Africa, followed by torrential rains that created thousands of waterfalls which in turn eroded the newly formed mountain massif, creating the great gorges and ravines that are so typical of the region. Southwest of Axum, the land gradually slopes south toward the Takazze River. At the edge of the gorge, at about 1,400 meters (4,600 ft), one can look across the chasm to a similar plateau beyond. Atop this plateau, adorned with steep towers and bastions rising on three distinct steps, rises the north wall of the Semyen.
The mountain massif is a wide plateau, cut off to the north and west by this huge single crag of more than 60 km. (40 miles) long and 1,000-1,500 meters (3,000-5,000 feet) tall. To the south, the mesa]gently slopes down to 2,200 meters (7,000 feet) divided by deep gorges 1,000 meters deep and taking two days to cross. Time has not yet been enough to soften the contours of the hardened basalt ridges and buttresses. As far as the eye can see looking north from the escarpment, fused volcanic cores rise up defying the elements. Above is the vast dome of a sky of the deepest blue, stretching down as clear as sapphire to the mauve of the horizon.
In this landscape splendor lives the Walia Ibex; here and nowhere else in the world. Forced by Man to retreat, and to retreat again, he has been forced at his end to inhabit the most inaccessible (except to bird or Walia) cliffs of the Semyen Escarpment. Walia once existed in significant numbers, probably several thousand in the highland massif, feeding on cliff faces and climbing up to roam the plateau in mating season. Large herds roamed undisturbed by these cold heights.
Even up to 50 years ago there were more than a thousand. With the Italian aggression in Ethiopia, the species began its drastic decline to the brink of extinction. The guerrillas who fought against the Italians and lived off the countryside found in Walia a convenient source of meat. Later, the local population took up arms again against the Walia, killing perhaps five to recover the meat of one. Most of them, whose wounded bodies spin and crash from the narrow ledges where they feed into the abysses of a thousand deaths or more, are never recovered. Rarely, a rope descent will bring the meat and skin parts to the surface, but the trophy, the lavish horns coveted by locals for drinking cups and by sportsmen to decorate their living rooms, are usually lost. forever.
First recorded in 1835 by Ruppell, and first properly observed by Powell Cotton earlier in the century (1900), the Walia at the time was a mythical beast and little was known of its numbers and status. The inaccessibility of its habitat combined with various historical events such as the Italian occupation and World War II, which made it impossible to visit the region for long periods, has prevented continuous recording since then. So until Leslie Brown did her preliminary study in the early 1960s, little was known about their behavior or habits.
A remnant of the early foray of Palearctic fauna into the tropics, the Walia’s closest relative is the Nubian Ibex (C. nubiana). There is a gap of several hundred miles of lowland between the southernmost limit of the Nubians and the highland habitat of the Walia. The Walia differs by being larger and stockier, with dark brown fur instead of pale brown. The horns of the males are more massive but not as long, and have reduced protuberances or ridges on the anterior surface. The Walia has a bony process on the forehead. Anatomical differences coupled with differences in habitat carry little weight for the argument that Walia is a distinct species.
The terrain inhabited by the Walia is from 2,300 to 4,000 meters (7,500 to 13,500 feet), but mainly above 2,500 and below 3,000 meters (8,000 to 9,500 feet). The small remnant population that remains is now confined to a range of some twenty miles from the bays and higher and steeper buttresses of the northern escarpment. They are now extinct in all other parts of their range, which once stretched from Byeda along the escarpment to Geech and Adis Gey.
The narrow vertical range they tend to occupy today would appear to be the result of persistent hunting. They have become extremely cautious and timid and choose not to be accessible from above or below. With protection, perhaps they will re-emerge on the plateau.
Mountain sheep and goats have legs specially adapted to live in mountainous terrain. Their hooves have sharp edges and the underside is concave, allowing them to stick like suckers. Seeing even the youngest and smallest of the Walia children frolicking on sloping rock ledges on a terrifyingly steep cliff, a 500-meter drop just inches away, makes one gasp with anxiety. They never fall.
The males and females have horns, but the males are larger. Curving back in an elegant arch to the withers, they sometimes reach a length of more than 110 cm. Females are smaller-bodied and lighter in color with shorter, slender horns. They live in small parties of two to half a dozen and the large, old males often live alone except during mating season. Due to the rarity of the animal, it is often not possible to observe a large male and one feels privileged to do so. The magnificent horns and striking coloring make for an unforgettable sight.
They are robustly built animals that stand about a meter tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 120 kg. Its beautiful chocolate brown to chestnut coat is tinted grayish brown around the snout, pale gray around the eyes, lower flanks, legs, and rump, and pale gray or white on the belly and insides of the tail. the legs. There is a black stripe on the outside of the legs and a white garter on each fetlock broken on the hind legs by a black stripe in the indentation of the hoof. Mature males sport a sleek black beard. The tail is short with a brush-shaped tuft of black hairs.
You can usually spot them as they come out onto rocky ledges to bask in the morning and evening sun. Small herds of females and young, or even single females with a kid at their feet, are not uncommon. Sometimes you will see a group of young yearling males that can be distinguished by their paler gray color and the thickness of their short little horns. They eat grass and herbs, but prefer to browse rather than graze, standing on their hind legs like domestic goats to reach the tender shoots of giant heaths. There is no shortage of food, as within the heath forest there is abundant forage of herbs and soft, sweet grasses. They tend not to drink even though water is plentiful; they are supposed to get enough moisture from the green matter they feed on. They usually lie down in caves or bushes during the day, although this is not an infallible rule and I have observed them at feeding time, a group of youngsters playing in the sun.
Walia’s story is not over yet. In 1963 it was classified by the IUCN as endangered. In that year, the total number left alive was estimated at less than 200, probably 150. Indiscriminate hunting and habitat destruction by local people combined to drive the few remaining animals up vertical cliffs to survive (only four adult males have been taken since 1956 by legitimate shooting). Fortunately, before the end came, the Ethiopian government recognized the danger and, in 1965, drew up plans to establish a national park to protect both the habitat and its fauna, and the park was declared official that same year. The numbers were found to have remained constant for two years, indicating that with protection they could increase quite rapidly. Guards were appointed from Geech to Mietgogo to curb local poaching and illegal cultivation and habitat burning. Over the last fifteen years, the number has steadily increased as the females are still ready and willing to breed in the cliffside caves.
Today, no less than 10% of the cliff’s surface is made up of wide green ledges or gullies in which Walia can feed. Brown estimates that this amount of land space can support a population of two or three thousand. The Walia have no natural enemies other than possibly the occasional bird of prey, and therefore, with full protection from man, they could be expected to recover their numbers and double the current population within ten years.
At present, protection laws are still difficult to properly enforce, and local people cannot be expected to know that this animal exists only here. They also failed to realize that it could be anticipated that it would generate a much higher income if it were allowed to live and reproduce, than its dead parts would ever earn. It can only be hoped that the rugged terrain in which the last survivors live will allow a core herd to survive until visitors from around the world can come and observe this rare creature in the magnificence of its mountainous habitat.