Feeding ecology and diet

All members of the subfamily are generalist herbivores. A wide range of plant material is eaten: grasses, sedges, herbs, shrubs, buds, shoots, and twigs of trees; fruits, acorns, bark, moss, lichen, and fungi. Long-tailed goral in the Russian Far East eat marine grasses and even seaweed. The Caprinae includes both grazers and browsers and most species are both, to a greater or lesser extent. In a large proportion of the global range of Caprinae, there is a significant difference in forage quality between summer and winter. In winter, animals may be forced to eat dry vegetation, twigs, shrubs, and evergreen shoots with a low nutritional content and that may contain secondary compounds. As a result, they lose condition and may even die of starvation. Many species descend in spring to reach the first flush of green growth. Lush mountain pastures containing grasses and sedges provide rich feeding grounds, and it has been estimated that Siberian ibex in Pakistan could gain up to 44 lb (20 kg) in weight by the end of the summer. Invertebrates, including scorpions and beetles have been found in the stomachs of urial in Turkmenistan.

Blue sheep, Siberian ibex, urial, bighorn sheep, musk ox, and Japanese serow all dig through snow to reach winter for

Nilgiri tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius) on the slopes of the western Ghats of India. (Photo by E. Hanumantha Rao/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

age. Wild goat species may stand up on their hindlegs to gain access to browse and use a foreleg to pull down the vegetation. Himalayan tahr and markhor have been observed climbing into oak trees to feed on the leaves, with some markhor reaching heights of 19-29 ft (6-9 m) above the ground. Serow and mountain goats are also known to climb into trees growing horizontally out of cliffs to feed. Takin are mainly browsers and they may push over young trees to reach the leaves and shoots.

While water needs may be partially met from vegetation consumed or dew that has condensed on vegetation, most species drink from streams and springs, and those living at high altitudes eat snow in winter. Salt licks are also important to many species: mountain goats, for example, may travel several miles (kilometers) to reach them. Blue sheep have been known to lick urine-soaked areas near human encampments and takin consume soil at certain seasons, possibly for its mineral content.

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