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Nubian Ibex (Capra nubiana) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History and Nomenclature

Common names

  • Nubian ibex (Alkon 2013)
    • Arabian ibex, uncommonly used (Lydekker 1898)
  • Etymology
    • Ibex, a Latin term referring to a wild goat with long, recurved horns (Gove 1993)

Scientific name

  • Etymology
    • Genus Capra from the Latin word caper meaning 'goat' (Brown 1956)
    • Specific epithet nubiana from two words; Nubia referring to a tract of country in northern Africa lying between Egypt and Sudan and the Latin suffix -anus meaning 'belonging to' (Gotch 1995)
  • Synonyms
    • Capra ibex; sometimes treated as a subspecies (C. i. nubiana)

Evolutionary History

Order Cetartiodactyla (Seiffert and Kingdon 2013)

  • Order joins two previous taxonomic groups
    • Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) and Cetacea (whales)
    • Artiodactyls include pigs, camelids, ruminants, and hippopotamuses (hippos)
  • Estimates for origins
    • Fossil evidence dates to c. 55 million years ago (mya), the early Eocene
    • Molecular estimates older; to near the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary (c. 66 mya)

Family Bovidae (from Groves 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Closely related to cervids (deer)
  • Diversity
    • Contains more extant (living) species of large mammals than any other family of mammals

Subfamily Caprinae

  • Evolutionary origins
    • Modern forms evolved during the Pleistocene (Shackleton 1997)
      • Major glacial intervals likely impacted evolution within the group
    • Origin c. 17.8 mya; a rough estimate (Fernandez and Vrba 2005)

Genus Capra (Grubb and Hoffmann 2013)

  • Origin
    • Likely in Europe, based on fossil evidence
    • Share close ancestor with Hemitragus (Tahrs, large Asian ungulates) (Bibi et al. 2012; Fernandez and Vrba 2005; Hassanin and Douzery 1999; Shafer and Hall 2010)
      • Split occurred c. 8.0 mya; a rough estimate (Fernandez and Vrba 2005)
  • Two African species, closely related to one another
    • C. nubiana
    • C. walie

Cultural History

Stone Age (Neolithic) renderings

  • Carved images (petroglyphs)
    • Found on rocks throughout the Eastern Desert of Egypt, the Sinai peninsula, and the Arabian peninsula (Habibi 1994; Osborn and Helmy 1980)

Dynastic Egypt (Buxton et al. 1895)

  • Depictions adorned temples and tombs
  • Ibex young raised as pets 
  • Offered in sacrifice to gods

Arabian art and culture

  • Widely depicted in artwork
  • Sacred associations


  • Not an historically domestic animal
    • No physical evidence of domestication, as occurred with other goat species (Clutton-Brock 1999; Mason 1981; Zeuner 1963)
      • Morphological analysis of fossils does not suggest artificial selection
    • Recent experimental program at Kibbutz Lahav, Istael (from P Alkon personal communication)
      • Nubian ibex successfully bred with domestic goats
      • Hybrids (known as Yaez in Hebrew) successfully herded in marginal, semi-arid habitats

History of exploitation(from Osborn and Helmy 1980 unless otherwise noted)

  • Hunted for sport
    • Dating back to Dynastic Egypt (Buxton et al. 1895)
  • Hunted for profit
    • Prior to World War I (WWI), tribes of Northern Sinai exported ibex to the Suez
    • Post WWI hunted to sell their meat
  • Horns fashioned onto sword sheaths

Early ibex sanctuary

  • Wadi Rishrash Sanctuary
    • c. 1900-1940, established by Prince Kemal el Din

Popular culture resources

  • Documentaries
    • Life- 2009, BBC nature series; contains a segment ("Escape of the ibex") on Nubian ibex, from episode 7: "Hunters and Hunted"
      • Watch amazing footage of a baby ibex's perilous escape from a fox
    • Planet Earth- 2007, BBC series; contains a brief segment (Chapter 4) on Nubian ibex, from the "Desert" episode
      • Watch a battle between sub-adult males


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates)*

Family: Bovidae

Subfamily: Caprinae

Tribe: Caprini

Genus: Capra (goats)

Species: Capra nubiana - Nubian ibex

Source: ITIS 2014

*New anatomical and DNA evidence on the relationship between Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) and Cetacea (whales and dolphins) recently led to a merging of the two orders into a new group, Cetartiodactyla (Montgelard 1997; reviewed in Kulemzina 2009). As of October 2012, experts had not agreed on whether to define Cetartiodactyla as an official taxonomic order that would replace Artiodactyla and Cetacea. Some continue to list goats in the order Artiodactyla (Franklin 2011) or use the term Cetartiodactyla without defining it as an order (IUCN 2008).

Ibex-handled Incense Burner

ibex carving

Ibex-handled incense burner from southwestern Arabia, c. mid-1st millennium B.C.E. Ibex frequently associated with southern Arabian deities, specifically the god of the Sabaean people.

Image credit: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Alkon (2013)
Bibi et al. (2012)
Brown (1956)
Buxton et al. (1895)
Clutton-Brock (1999)
Fernandez and Vrba (2005)
Gotch (1995)
Gove (1993)
Groves (2013)
Grubb and Hoffmann (2013)
Habibi (1994)
Harrison (1968)
Hassanin and Douzery (1999)
ITIS (2014)
Lydekker (1898)
Mason (1981)
Osborn and Helmy (1980)
Seiffert and Kingdon (2013)
Shackleton (1997)
Shafer and Hall (2010)
Zeuner (1963)

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