In 2009, the Pyrenean ibex became the first sub-species ever to have become unextinct - but only for seven minutes. A cloning project funded by the Spanish government produced one clone that was born alive; it died seven minutes from a lung defect.
The Pyrenean ibex, Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica is one of four sub-species of Iberian wild goat. One other - the Portuguese ibex - has also become extinct. But two species remain, and large herds are alive and well in Spain, where they're prized for - yes, you've guessed it - hunting. When the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégoises was created in 2009, its charter included the intention to reintroduce lost species, including the ibex. After several years of negotiation, a reintroduction programme involving the Ariège and also the Pyrenean National Park was agreed, with animals coming from two areas of Spain, the area of Els Ports near Tortosa (where we've actually had an eyeball-to-eyeball encounter with an ibex!) and central Spain, near Madrid.
In July last year, the first dozen animals were released into the Ariège, at the Cirque de Cagateille where so many of our guests have walked; last month another ten joined them. Just before that, in May this year in a forest of the Ustou valley, up at 1800 metres, one of the female ibex and her kid were spotted by one of the PNR's project workers - the first such birth in the Pyrenees for over 100 years. And this time round, the species is protected here in France (if not yet in Spain).
More ibex will be introduced over the next three or four years, according to how successfully the current animals breed and therefore what's needed to create a stable population. If you're out walking around Ustou and the cirque, keep your eyes peeled up on the rocky crags and you might just spot a piece of history in the making.
For now, though, simply enjoy the first sightings of these beautiful creatures, in this lovely video. I've watched this so many times now and it still brings a tear to my eye!