Cretan Ibexes – also called kri-kri or agrimi for males and sanada for females – (Capra aegagrus cretica) are feral goats endemic to Crete. The Species Survival Commission arm of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN/SSC) deemed the Cretan Ibex “vulnerable” because of their critically low numbers.
The species is endangered not only due to their small total population size (less than 2000 on Crete Island and a few hundred on Dia, Thodorou, Agii Pantes, and Sapientza) but also because they hybridize readily with domestic goats (Capra hircus). Only on Crete is the population believed to be readily pure; even there, hybridization is a constant threat. The kri-kris on Erimomilos Island in the Cyclades and Gioura Island in the Northern Sporades are hybrids. Still, hybridization with domestic goats is common even within Samariá Gorge National Park on Crete Island.
Other problems arise from increased road accessibility, leading to larger tourist access and poaching problems. Hunters favor kri-kris for their tender meat and spectacular horns that make for jaw-dropping trophies. While there are no organized hunting areas on Crete, trophy hunters apply for permits for the controlled hunting areas on Sapientza and Atalanti islands during the hunting season, usually lasting only 16 days in November and December every year. Even during the hunting season, there are strict rules in place preventing hunters from killing at will. For example, only twelve hunters (divided into three or four groups) are allowed in the hunting area per day.
Several measures are already in place on Crete Island to protect the Cretan Ibex:
- A strict control program to remove the threat of hybridization with domestic goats;
- Poaching control by regularly patrolling the park during winter and closing off-season access;
- Banning the development of major tourist facilities (hotels, restaurants, roads, etc.) in the mountain regions of the park and its surroundings and strictly controlling visitor access (e.g., specific hours of use enforced, no overnight use of the park).
- A monitored census of the kri-kri population and regular surveillance of the area throughout the Lefka mountains, paying particular attention to the degree of hybridization, human encroachment, etc.
The Kri Kri Ibex may be a descendant of ancient semi-domesticated Capra stocks that arrived on Crete during the Aceramic Neolithic, around 7,000 or even 9,000 BC. Some of these goats escaped and formed feral populations that still exist today, maintaining similar physical characteristics to their ancestors, the Bezoar, from the Near East.
The presence of wild goats is even documented by Homer in the Odyssey (Hom. Od. 9.116-125):
Opposed to the Cyclopean coast, there lay An isle, whose hill their subject fields survey; Its name Lachaea, crown'd with many a grove, Where savage goats through pathless thickets rove: No needy mortals here, with hunger bold, Or wretched hunters through the wintry cold Pursue their flight; but leave them safe to bound From hill to hill, o'er all the desert ground. Nor knows the soil to feed the fleecy care, Or feels the labours of the crooked share; But uninhabited, untill'd, unsown, It lies, and breeds the bleating goat alone.
These ancient feral goats are considered “living fossils” and hold crucial genetic diversity, representing one of the earliest domesticated stocks that have undergone minimal changes and deserve protection.
Archeological finds from the Sanctuary Rhyton from 1963, during the excavation of the palatial structure at Kato Zakros, show that the Kri Kri Ibex was probably worshiped in Crete as early as the Late Minoan (1550-1500 BC).
A rare sight today, wild and shy to approach humans, the Kri Kri Ibex remains a symbol of Crete often associated with its residents’ spirit of resilience and endurance.