Markhor - The national animal of Pakistan

The word markhor is derived from a Persian language, meaning snake eater. Historically, the straight-horned markhor is a subspecies, inhabited on the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Today, it is only present in the mountains of Balochistan province, Pakistan.

Markhor - The national animal of Pakistan

The markhor (Capra falconeri) is a wild goat specie. They are muscular and strong with relatively short, thick legs and have broad hooves. Males have long hair on the throat, chin, chest and shanks, while females have smaller fringes.  The lower legs have a black and white pattern. Two subspecies (Capra falconeri) are recognized on the basis of their horns. One is flare-horned (Capra falconeri falconeri) which includes the Kashmir (Capra falconeri cashmiriensis) and Astore (Capra falconeri falconeri) forms. The other is straight-horned (Capra falconeri megaceros) which includes the Kabul (Capra falconeri megaceros) and Suleiman (Capra falconeri jerdoni) forms.

Body length of markhor varies from 4.5 to 6 feet and height ranges from 2 to 3.5 feet at shoulder. Weights have been estimated as varying from 70- 240 lbs. Horn length is 135 to 143cm in male and 25 to 30cm in female. Gestation period varies from 135 to 170 days. Life span is 12 to 13 years. They live on high altitudes ranges between 600m to 3600m. They spend their lives on extremely rugged land with dangerously high or steep cliffs, rocky caves, and bare rock surfaces. Temperatures in the habitat range from below 00C to 300C. They are of reddish-grey color, with more buff tones in the summer and grey in the winter. Adult males have an extensive blackbeard, shaggy mane of long hairs extending down the chest and from the fore part of the neck. Horns are straight with an open, tight spiral look like corkscrew.


Historically, the straight-horned markhor (Capra falconeri jerdoni) is a subspecies, inhabited on the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Today, the markhor is only present in the mountains of Balochistan province, Pakistan. They are present in Chitral, Quetta, Torghar range, Suleiman hills, Dir and Swat Kohistan and a small population also present in Azad Jammu and kashmir. It is considered that it is widely distributed but the straight-horned markhor has been reduced to small scattered populations on all the mountain ranges.

In the early 1980s, local tribal leaders become alarmed on such a decrease number of markhor population in the Torghar Hills. At that time, the population of markhor reached at a critical level, estimated less than 200. Then, Torghar Conservation Project (TCP) is started to conserve the endangered species. The TCP is the oldest community-controlled program in Pakistan and has been so successful.


Markhor travel in herds of about more than 9 individuals.  Herd composition is primarily female, with the males temporarily joining during the breeding season.  The male competes for breeding right by locking and lunging horns followed by pushing and twisting in an attempt to make the other lose his balance. Males are otherwise solitary. They are more active during daytime but are mainly active in early morning and late afternoon.

Markhor forage up to 12 or 14 hours a day including a resting period to chew cud. Plant species such as Prangos pabularia and Linum perenne were found in the diet of markhor and domestic goat in both the spring and summer seasons. In the spring seasons, Rumex lastatus was dominant while in the summer seasons, Hypsicum perforatum was dominant in food. They have intensively keen eyesight and developed good sense of smell. Both of these senses are utilized in recognition of their land and predator detection. They exhibit intense movements in response to detection of predators.


Like most of ungulates (having hooves), markhor do not mate monogamously. They breed annually, late autumn (December) to the end of January. Pregnancy lasts in 155 days.  Each calving can produce 1 to 2 offspring (kids). The young are usually born in the spring or summer months of May and June.  The young ones are born in a shallow earthen hollow.  They are able to walk soon after birth and can travel with their mother. Mother provide nourishment (milk) and protection to their young ones.  Weaning occurs at the age of 5 or 6 months. The kids typically remain with their mother until breeding season.  Reproductive maturity occurs at the age of 18 to 36 months, and is somewhat later in males than in females.

Predators and conservative of markhor

Humans are the primary predators of markhor. Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) have been reported preying upon young markhor. Among wild carnivores, himalayan lynx, leopard cats, snow leopards, wolves and black bears are the main predators of markhor. Because of all these threats, markhor attain keen eyesight and a strong sense of smell to detect nearby predators. They are very aware of their surroundings and are on high alert for predators. Hunting also causes fragmentation of the population into small islands and are prone to extinction. The markhor is a valued trophy hunting prize for its incredibly rare spiral horns which became a threat to their species. The continuing declines populations then become a concern to international community.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources classifies the markhor as a threatened species. Number of factors are responsible for decrease number of their population which include hunting for meat and sport, population fragmentation, fencing, habitat alteration and degradation and competition with domestic livestock for fodder, water and land. Increase population of humans in the natural habitat of markhor is a major factor responsible for decrease number of markhor. We can help by stop hunting and destroying their habitat or by supporting local zoos that have made a home for markhors.

This article is collectively written by Muhammad Hunain Ahmed, Muhammad Usman, and Warda Qamar.

By Muhammad Hunain Ahmed

Student of M phil Pathology.