The markhor is the national animal of Pakistan. The markhor is a large species of wild goat that is found in northern Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan and northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). The species is classed by the IUCN as Endangered, as there are fewer than 2,500 mature individuals and the numbers have continued to decline by an estimated 20% over two generations.
The colloquial name is thought by some to be derived from the Persian word mar, meaning snake, and khor, meaning “eater”, which is sometimes interpreted to either represent the species’ ability to kill snakes, or as a reference to its corkscrewing horns, which are somewhat reminiscent of coiling snakes. According to folklore (Explanation by Shah Zaman Gorgani), the markhor has the ability to kill a snake and eat it. Thereafter, while chewing the cud, a foam-like substance comes out of its mouth which drops on the ground and dries. This foam-like substance is sought after by the local people, who believe it is useful in extracting snake poison from snake bitten wounds.
Markhor stand 26 to 45 inches at the shoulder, 52 to 73 inches in length and weigh from 32 to 110 kilograms. They have the highest maximum shoulder height among the species in the genus Capra, but is surpassed in length and weight by the Siberian ibex. The coat is of a grizzled, light brown to black colour, and is smooth and short in summer, while growing longer and thicker in winter. The fur of the lower legs is black and white.
Markhor are adapted to mountainous terrain, and can be found between 600 and 3,600 meters in elevation. They typically inhabit scrub forests made up primarily of oaks, pines and junipers. They are diurnal, and are mainly active in the early morning and late afternoon.
Their diets shift seasonally: in the spring and summer periods they graze, but turn to browsing in winter, sometimes standing on their hind legs to reach high branches.
The mating season takes place in winter, during which the males fight each other by lunging, locking horns and attempting to push each other off balance. The gestation period lasts 135–170 days, and usually results in the birth of one or two kids, though rarely three.
Markhor live in flocks, usually numbering nine animals, composed of adult females and their young. Adult males are largely solitary. Their alarm call closely resembles the bleating of domestic goats. Early in the season the males and females may be found together on the open grassy patches and clear slopes among the forest. During the summer, the males remain in the forest, while the females generally climb to the highest rocky ridges above.