Field of Science

Ibexes as outstanding climbers and improvised geologists

The Alpine Ibexes (Capra ibex) living near the artificial reservoir in the Bremba-valley, situated at 2.142m above sea level in the Orobic Alps (Lombardy) in Italy, can be observed to gather around and then climb the steep wall of the dam, constructed by an electric company in 1933 to dam the river Brembo.
The animals are searching for the natural mineral deposit that this place can provide - rocks inserted on the concrete surface of the 50m high wall and containing precious minerals, at least from the prospect of an ibex.
The water from the reservoir is slowly percolating trough the wall and the rocks, and evaporating on the surface it deposits a layer of various salts and minerals. It's these natural resources that the animals are exploiting (and licking), and their outstanding climb-abilities and anatomical features enable them to reach even the most exposed point on the dam.

Fig.1. and 2. Even the young ibexes dare to climb the wall, following the example of older and experienced individuals. The hard hoofs of the animals enable them to balance on the projecting rock, and the soft pads act as excellent grip surface, Photos by Adriano Migliorati/Caters News/National Geographic Italia.

Fig.3. Two geologists (recognizable by the use of a hammer) examining a rock face in the Alps, accompanied by their guides: from the frontispiece of Natural-historical Alpine Travels (1830) by the Swiss geologist Franz Joseph Hugi (1796-1855). This illustrates the kind of fieldwork being undertaken by geologists in mountain regions (note the similarities to the previous pictures).


MAINARDI, D. & BURGIO, F. (2010): Lo stambecco equilibrista. OASIS N°.190/ Ottobre-Novembre 2010: 20-21

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