The ibex is the king of the mountains – strong and proud. It is the symbol of both the Alps and Pontresina. This was not always the case, however. Towards the end of the 18th century, this noble animal gradually disappeared in the Alpine regions of Europe. Ibex were only present in the Gran Paradiso hunting grounds of the Italian king in the Aosta valley. Humans had eradicated the ibex.
In 1906, the first ibex returned to Switzerland again when poachers commissioned by distinguished Swiss public figures brought illegally caught kids from the Aosta valley to St. Gallen. This was the beginning of what was probably the most successful re-introduction of a threatened type of mammal to its natural habitat. In 2006, exactly 100 years after the resettlement, ibex were captured in Pontresina and other towns, to ‘give them back’ to the Italians. The gift was intended as symbolic atonement for the fact that Switzerland – with the support of the federal authorities – illegally imported ibex from Italy over a period of fifty years.
Today, Switzerland’s largest colony of ibexes, consisting of approximately 1600 animals, lives in the Albris area in Val Languard. In spring, the ibexes even dare to come down into the village, where it is easy to watch and admire them.
By the way, the Alpine ibex is a member of the goat species. The male animal can reach a weight of up to 100 kg and has an impressive set of curved antlers that grow up to a metre long. However, the female ibex weighs only 40 kg and has much smaller antlers. In the Alps, the reproduction period is in December and January. The young are born in May or June.
Since the brown bear disappeared from our forests, red deer are the largest mammal in this region. This imposing animal boasts impressive antlers and adapts well to the conditions at this altitude. After becoming virtually extinct in Switzerland around 1850, it now populates a large part of the mountain forests once again.
Does are usually found in herds with the fawns and the previous year’s young animals. Red deer bucks live in male herds except during the rutting season. The male animal’s antlers are designed to impress and for combat. Red deer have antlers from the age of two until the end of their lives.
The rutting period, which takes place between mid-September and mid-October, is particularly interesting and a veritable spectacle. The male animals are predominantly active at dusk and during the night. In areas where they are undisturbed, rutting and mating can sometimes be seen during the day. In Val Trupchun, the Alpine red deer headquarters, the Swiss National Park offers guided walks.
Link to guided walks in the National Park:
Alpine marmots are found on Alpine meadows and sub-Alpine grasslands. Marmots rely on their burrows to protect themselves from enemies in territory that does not provide much cover. When faced with danger, they disappear into their burrows as quick as lightning, without forgetting to warn the others by whistling first. Marmots live in family units which stay together for many years. At the end of September, they retreat into their well-padded winter quarters to hibernate.
Bearded vultures became extinct in the Alps in the 19th century. In earlier times, they were wrongly regarded as thieves and ‘lamb vultures’ but in reality they live on carrion and bones. Their wingspan is approximately 3 metres.
Since 1986, bearded vultures have been re-introduced to the Alps as part of an ongoing international project and were first introduced to the National Park in 1991. Since then, around 30 bearded vultures have been raised in natural broods in the Engadin / National Park / Stilfserjoch region.