Once extinct in Switzerland, the ibex is back. Thousands of the surefooted creatures now live in the Swiss Alps.
The Swiss loved their ibex to death – hunting them for their meat and horns, which people once believed had medicinal properties. Supposedly, horn powder could help conquer vertigo.
The last Swiss ibex was shot in canton Valais in 1809, but Italy still had loads of them thanks to the royal hunting supply. Later, Swiss officials asked whether they could buy some Italian ibex, but King Victor Emmanuel II wasn’t selling.
So in 1906, the Swiss authorities hired poachers to capture a number of Italian ibex kids and sneak them over the Swiss border. A successful breeding programme made it possible to start the Augstmatthorn colony in the Bernese Oberland. Later, Italian leader Benito Mussolini gave Switzerland additional animals.
So-called bottlenecks have been a challenge for Alpine ibex. These occur when a population becomes very small – causing a loss of genetic diversity, which can then have a negative impact on a population’s well-being.