The summer is the perfect time of year for a walk in the mountains. The fresh alpine air is refreshing, the warmth of the sun relaxing and the scenery is beyond stunning. With miles and miles of tracks to follow, now is the perfect time to pack up a daysack with a fresh baguette, mountain cheeses and obligatory pastries, grab a large bottle of water, pull on your boots and head out for a hike. But you will see more en-route than amazing views. The mountains are teeming with wildlife at this time of year. Here is our guide to what you can expect to spot if you keep your eyes peeled!
This goat like animal is typically found at higher elevations throughout the Alps. Described as ‘agile climbers’ they have an astonishing ability to clamber up impossibly steep mountain rock faces. Not only can they climb well, but they can climb very quickly too, with the ability to ascend over 1,000 metres in 15 minutes or so. With no chance of catching them it is best to watch from a discrete distance to avoid disturbing them. A fully grown Chamois is about 2.5 feet high at the shoulder and both male and females have horns which curve slightly. In addition to living up in the mountains they can also be spotted in the forests around Zermatt.
One of the largest deer species, the Red Deer is the main type of deer that inhabits the Alps. A male adult can reach heights of 4 feet at the shoulder and sometimes reach weights of 150 kilos or more! Many adult males will grow resplendent horns which are used to fight rival males during the breeding season in the autumn. You typically find these magnificent animals in a deep forest setting, well below the treeline. If you are lucky you could well stumble on a herd of thirty or more whilst on your hike. Listen carefully as well for their amazing call which is typically deep and resonant.
From the impressive size of Red Deer we are heading in the opposite direction to the diminutive Marmot. Excellent diggers, you will find these little creatures anywhere between 2,500 and 10,000 feet (assuming you are willing to climb that high!). Living in burrows which house just one family, they continually expand their home as, generation by generation, their family grows. You are likely to spot Alpine Marmots as they guard near their burrow's entrance on the lookout for predators (and hikers!). You will know if you have been spotted as they emit a series of loud whistles which warns other Marmots in their colony to head for cover.
The boar is probably one of the most hunted mammals across Europe due to their large numbers and ability to cause damage to crops. Wild boar are mainly, nocturnal although you may well see them early in the morning and before sunset. Whilst you are more likely to see them in wooded areas below the treeline, where there is an abundance of food, they will range further up mountains. The rule is fairly simple – they will go wherever there is food to be found! Although Wild Boar attacks on people are uncommon, you should definitely exercise caution if you do stumble across one.
Mouflon are a type of wild sheep. You will know if you have spotted one due to their impressive curved horns which, on males, can curve back around on themselves. They are not native to the Alps and were introduced in the 1960’s from Corsica by hunters. They prefer open or semi open areas with lots of sunshine and little snow. Because they are not typical mountain animals they tend to prefer lower elevations but you could spot them higher up a mountain. It is estimated there are around 7,000 Mouflon dispersed between the Alps, the central Massif and the Pyrenees.
The largest bird in the alps, spotting one of these incredible animals is something you won’t quickly forget. With a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres these magnificent birds can be spotted over mountain landscapes which have fragmented or sparse cover. They have incredible eyesight and can spot a Marmot over 1km away. And distance is no object to the Golden Eagle when it comes to moving in for the kill – it can swoop down at over 200km/hour leaving it’s unfortunate victim with next to no time to react!
This mountain goat is frequently sighted in the rockiest and wildest regions of the Swiss Alps. Hunted to extinction in the early 19th century, they were reintroduced and now, under protected status, number some 40,000 animals. These are large animals weighing in at up to 120kg and are most recognisable by their large scimitar shaped horns which are ridged at the front. These distinctive horns are only grown by the males with the females growing much shorter, thinner horns.
For the really adventurous you might want to lookout for wolves! Driven to extinction across western Europe at the beginning of the 20th century they have recently begun to migrate back into the region with the help of conservationists. Although you may crave to see this rather iconic animal in the wild, the odds are low with only two confirmed wolf packs spotted in Switzerland in 2015. Numbers in France have been estimated at around 280 animals. The wolf has adapted for long journeys and will range freely throughout mountains as well as more urban areas, making sightings highly unpredictable, so keep a sharp lookout!
Spotted any wildlife on your trips to the Alps? We would love to see any photos you have! Tag us in them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and we will share them on our social media channels! Happy wildlife spotting!