Last Updated on July 25, 2022 by Dr. Ali Shahid
A Markhor, which belongs to the Capra falconeri family, is the largest species of goat in the world. From the rugged mountains of south-eastern Russia to the barren woods of the western Himalayas, this species of bird inhabits the rugged terrain of central Asia.
Pakistan’s northern areas, especially Chitral, Ghizar, and Hunza, are major habitats for the markhor. In summer, Markhors live at higher altitudes, and in winter at lower altitudes. The range of altitude is 500 to 3,500 meters (1,600 to 11,000 feet).
This species is an official national animal in Pakistan as well. In this article, we will discuss Markhor in Pakistan in detail, as well as threats to Markhor and its conservation status.
Markhor in Pakistan
Habitat of Markhor
Markhors can be found in Central Asia, the Karakoram Mountains, and the Himalayas. The habitat of these species can be found in countries such as Pakistan, Tajikistan, India (Jammu-Kashmir), Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Mountainous terrain with steep cliffs is an ideal habitat for Markhor, typically home to oaks, pines, and junipers. They inhabit the high mountain ranges of northern Pakistan and the deserts of southern Balochistan.
Nanga Parbat Massif is home to the Astor Markhor. Pakistan’s Kashmir Markhor (also known as Pir Panjal) extends north of Chitral to Dir and southward to Ladakh Sar and Mankial in Swat Kohistan.
Azad Kashmir also has a few of these species. There have been reports of the Kabul markhor in Chitral’s southern 17 border region and in Swat’s Murghazar Hills.
The Khanori Hills in Malakand Agency is home to some of them, as well as the Sakra mountains to the northeast of Mardan and the Safed Koh mountains in the upper Kurram valley.
There is a wide distribution of the Suleiman markhor, but very few of them exist. It is located in mountains along with all the major mountainous ranges, extending from the east to the north of Quetta.
The Chiltan markhor is generally confined to the Chiltan hills located southwest of Quetta.
A markhor has long, wavy hair and is brown, grey-black, white, tan, or a combination of these colors. The summer hair is smooth and short, and the winter hair is thicker and longer.
But the most notable feature of the species is its horns, which reach a height of five feet in mature males. They usually have black and white lower legs.
They range in height from 26-45 inches, are 52-73 inches long, and weigh 32-110 pounds. Siberian ibex are the only ones that exceed its weight and length, but they have the longest shoulders in the Capra genus.
Sexual dimorphism is a characteristic of the species. The female has short, red hair, a short black beard, and no mane, but the male has long hair on his chin, throat, chest, and shanks.
The horns of both sexes are long, but the males can reach 160cm (63in) while the females can reach 25cm (10in). Additionally, the smell of male goats is stronger than that of domestic goats.
The crepuscular nature of these animals causes them to be active in the morning as well as in the late afternoon. A male markhor lives a solitary life, while female markhors form herds of nine individuals or more.
Pakistan has a population density of 1 – 9 animals per square kilometer, which varies depending on the season. In many ways, the markhor alarm call is similar to that of the domestic goat.
Markhors are very agile and fast creatures, which makes it easy for them to navigate the rocky terrain with ease. Markhors descend to lower altitudes in order to avoid extreme weather conditions during the winter months.
Markhor is mostly preyed upon by wolves, snow leopards, leopards, lynxes, and humans playing the most important role.
During the summer months, a markhor grazes, and in the winter months, it browses. Grass tussocks, leaves, and other plants are the markhor’s main sources of nutrition.
Their diet consists primarily of leaves and shoots of trees, and they stand on their hind legs to eat them.
Markhors forage from 8 to 12 hours a day, and they are usually active all day except during some hours when they rest and chew their cud.
Poaching, which affects the markhor in indirect ways such as disturbance, increased fleeing distances, and thereby reduced habitat size, is by far the most important threat to the survival of the species.
As a result of poaching, population fragmentation occurs. With their spiral horns, markhors have become some of the best trophy hunting prizes due to their incredibly limited availability.
The markhor is a major food source for snow leopards, brown bears, lynxes, jackals, and golden eagles, in addition to many other species.
Even though they don’t directly endanger them, their predation is a factor in further decreasing the markhor population, which is already small.
The IUCN Red List currently classifies this species as Near Threatened (NT) but some recent studies have shown that its numbers are on the rise.
Conservation of Markhor in Pakistan
As a result of overhunting for meat and horns, the IUCN listed the Markhor as an endangered species in 1994, and it was estimated to have a population of less than 2,500 at the time.
Since conservation efforts have improved in recent years, those numbers have started to bounce back. There are less than 10,000 markhors in the world at present, which is considered near threatened by the IUCN Red List.
There were also efforts undertaken by wildlife conservation NGOs, such as Save Our Species and the Wildlife Conservation Society of Pakistan. The efforts of all these organizations have contributed to the gradual recovery of this magnificent mammal.
In the past decade, the population of Markhor grew by more than 20%. The Pakistani government issues four permits for Markhor hunting every year, even though most people consider it a mostly illegal activity.
A total of twelve licenses are available for markhor hunts every year, through open auctions. For foreign hunters, it is necessary to attend a public auction before they are allowed to hunt any animals that are old and cannot reproduce.
One hunting permit sold for $160,250 which was the highest price in recent years. Funds allegedly from the sale of the hunting permits go towards promoting conservation in the area.
In Pakistan, under the Wildlife Act of 2015, a hunter can face up to six years in prison, a fine up to 150,000 Pakistani rupees (roughly $850), or both if he kills a female or a young markhor.
There are a number of organizations involved in these projects, including the Pakistan Zoological Society, KPK Wildlife and Biodiversity, and the World Wildlife Fund.
Even so, conservation of these animals is an increasingly difficult task in conflict zones like Afghanistan and high-security areas like Kashmir, which have heavily militarized borders.
There are however various countries that have populations of these unique wild animals. They are engaged in the effort to save them from the dreadful fate of extinction in their own country.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many markhors are left in Pakistan?
The number of Markhors left in Pakistan is approximately 4,000. Through the efforts of the Pakistan Government along with other organizations, the number of these animals in Pakistan has increased quite a bit.
Why markhor is the national animal of Pakistan?
Its ability to thrive in the mountainous environment and its widespread presence throughout the entire country led to its selection as Pakistan’s official national animal.
Is Markhor only in Pakistan?
There is no doubt that Markhor is popular throughout the world in relation to its link with Pakistan. It doesn’t mean, however, that it exists only in Pakistan. Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are home to the markhor.
Their main food source is vegetation. Their climbing skills are highly developed, and they can traverse steep rocky terrain with ease to avoid predators such as snow leopards and wolves that may attack them.
What is special in Markhor?
According to local mythology, markhors have special abilities such as eating snakes and killing them. Markhors dribble a foam-like substance after chewing their cud. This substance is used to extract snake poison by the locals.
Does Markhor eat snakes?
A markhor has not been found to eat snakes or kill them with their horns in any known cases. It is currently thought that the symbolism of the legend comes from either the markhor’s powerful hooves killing snakes or the horns coiling like snakes.
Dr. Ali Shahid is a veterinarian by profession and CEO at provets. He loves to treat animals and has great expertise in veterinary products. Our aim is to provide the best information related to your animal health.