Wildlife in the Alps
Issue 4 / 06 July 2018
Wildlife in the Alps

Stretching nearly 700 miles through Europe, the Alps are teeming with at least 30,000 animal species for you to spot.

Serena Norton

Stretching nearly 700 miles through Europe, the Alps are teeming with at least 30,000 animal species. The lakes and mountains are rich with exotic and fascinating wildlife, particularly during the summer months. So with hiking boots and binoculars in hand, here is our guide to what you should be looking out for on your travels.

Chamois

Adapted to living in precipitous, rugged and rocky terrain, chamois are a species of goat-antelope native to the mountains in Europe. Recognised by their white facial markings and brown stripes along their backbone, chamois reach speeds of up to 50 km per hour and can jump as high as 2m vertically and 6m horizontally. Chamois live at moderately high altitudes and can be spotted in forested areas and high alpine meadows above 1800m.

Ibex

Ibex are a species of goat, notable for their large backwards curving horns which are ridged at the front. The species was hunted to extinction in the 19th century in Switzerland due to their supposed medicinal properties. The Italian king Vittorio Emanuele owned the last remaining herd but refused requests from Switzerland to buy some. In 1906 the Swiss authorities ordered two to be be poached from king’s herd and smuggled across the Swiss border to start a breeding ground. There are now around 15,000 ibex in Switzerland, mostly in high rocky alpine areas above the treeline. The Upper Val de Bagnes nature reserve is a particularly good place to spot them. Ibex also tend to gather in the vicinity of some gondolas and villages such as Pontresina.

Marmot

Marmots are large ground squirrels that live in alpine meadows and subalpine grassland. Highly sociable, they use loud whistles to communicate with each other, particularly when they sense danger, before retreating at speed to their burrows. Marmots hibernate during the winter, emerging when the snow melts to consume large amounts of food including grass and Alpine clover which sees them through the cold months. Marmots live in families and by the age of three young marmots must leave the burrow. A great place to spot marmots is in Zermatt on a trail leading from Blauherd via Stellisee to Sunnegga. They can also be seen from the lift between Zermatt and Furi and in the Schwarzsee area.

Golden Eagle

No other bird of prey is as closely associated with the Alps than the golden eagle. This powerful bird has a wingspan of up to 2.2m and is one of the few birds able to fly at high altitude. They can be spotted over mountain landscapes with fragmented or sparse cover. Golden eagles can reach speeds of 240-320 km per hour when diving after prey. While soaring through the air, the bird spies his prey with “eagle-eye” vision - usually small and medium sized animals such as marmots.

Red Deer

Although extinct in Switzerland in the mid-17th century, continued protection and migration (plus a lack of natural predators) has resulted in healthy populations of red deer across the Swiss Alps. There are currently an estimated 35,000 red deer in the country and can be found in much of the Swiss Alps, particularly Graubunden, as well as parts of Jura. Red deer generally live in herds and males are renowned for their impressive antlers which are made of bone, covered in ‘velvet’ and can grow 2.5 cm a day. During the rut, fierce fights take place between stags claiming their hinds. Stags have a distinctive roar-like sound and females are often attracted to those with the loudest roar.

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