Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Ibex of Mitzpe Ramon

If there is one thing that is the hallmark of Mitzpe Ramon, it must be the Ibex. Ibex are a kind of mountain goat with long curving horns and an uncanny ability to climb steep walls, despite having hooves and not a single prehensile appendage anywhere in sight. There is a herd of about 40 that climb down the crater walls at night and climb back up to town at dawn to eat. They are drawn to the trees and foliage which they savor and the garbage and kiddy junk food which they beg from children and tourists. The foliage and trees are only here because of irrigation. Without it the land is hardscrabble rock and dust. The Ibex are such a notable part of the town that murals of them decorate store walls. Here they are shopping and enjoying a cup of coffee.

The young ones spend the better part of each day precariously perched on the crater walls. Seeing these animals scramble up and down the walls, one can't quite understand how they do it. Even while watching them it seems hard to credit their climbing skills, which seem to excel even those of a man with hands and feet for gripping.

Here is part of the herd of more mature animals, lying down in the early morning sunshine in the rock field that separates the crater from the city. They always strike the ground with their hooves before lying down (as seen here), the way a dog digs before lying down in the dirt. This raises a cloud of dust, but does nothing to displace the rocky earth where they are about to lie. I have no idea what such behavior means, in light of its seeming futility.

In the older animals, the horns curve back around their bodies interferring with head movement. This big guy is about 8 years old and is enjoying a meal of grass, supported by the local irrigation hoses, seen in the picture.

The Ibex are free to wander all over town, and their preferred path is walls and balustrades, showing an uncanny sense of poise and balance.

Here an older Ibex mounts a wall to reach his early morning meal of tree leaves and grass.

A very cool head, he calmly continues on his way.

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