If you are a nature lover and you visit Crete, you might be lucky enough to spot a rare and beautiful animal that lives only on this island and a few nearby islets. This animal is the
(Capra hircus cretica), also known as the
. It is a feral goat that belongs to the same species as the domestic goat, but has developed some distinctive features due to its long isolation and adaptation to the harsh environment of the Cretan mountains.
In this blog post, we will explore some facts about the kri-kri, its history, its habitat, its appearance, its behavior, and its conservation status. We will also give you some tips on where and how to see this elusive and endangered animal in its natural setting.
The history of the kri-kri
The kri-kri is not thought to be indigenous to Crete, but most likely imported to the island during the time of the Minoan civilization, which flourished between 2700 and 1450 BC. The Minoans were known for their advanced culture, art, and architecture, as well as their worship of nature and animals. Archaeological excavations have unearthed several depictions of the kri-kri on pottery, frescoes, and rhytons (ceremonial vessels). Some academics believe that the animal was revered as a symbol of fertility and strength.
After the collapse of the Minoan civilization, the kri-kri gradually escaped from human control and became wild. It was once common throughout the Aegean islands, but due to hunting, habitat loss, and competition with domestic goats, it was reduced to a few isolated populations. Today, the kri-kri is found only in Greece on three small islands just off the shore of Crete (Dia, Thodorou and Agii Pantes) and on the island of Sapientza (Messenian Oinousses), where it was introduced in great numbers to protect the species from extinction. The largest and most important population lives in the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) of western Crete, especially in the Samaria Gorge National Park.
The habitat of the kri-kri
The kri-kri prefers rocky and rugged terrain with dense vegetation and access to water sources. It can be found at altitudes ranging from sea level to over 2000 meters. It avoids open areas and human settlements, seeking refuge in caves and cliffs. The White Mountains of Crete offer an ideal habitat for the kri-kri, as they are mostly inaccessible and uninhabited by humans. The White Mountains are also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, hosting another 14 endemic animal species and a rich flora.
The Samaria Gorge National Park is the core area of the reserve and one of the most visited natural attractions in Crete. It is a spectacular canyon that stretches for 16 kilometers from the Omalos plateau to the Libyan Sea. The gorge is home to about 450 kri-kris, as well as many other rare plants and animals. The park is open to visitors from May to October, but access is restricted to certain hours and paths to minimize disturbance to wildlife.
The appearance of the kri-kri
The kri-kri has a light brownish coat with a darker band around its neck. It has two horns that sweep back from the head, longer and thicker in males than in females. It has a black stripe along its back and a black tail that ends in a tuft of hair. It has a white belly and white markings on its face, legs, and ears. It has a short beard under its chin and long hair on its chest and shoulders.
The kri-kri is smaller than the domestic goat, measuring about 100-120 cm in length and 50-60 cm in height at the shoulder. It weighs about 30-50 kg, with males being heavier than females. It has slender legs and hooves that are adapted for climbing steep slopes and jumping over obstacles. It can leap up to 2 meters high or 4 meters long.
The behavior of the kri-kri
The kri-kri is a shy and elusive animal that avoids humans and rests during the day. It is most active at dawn and dusk, when it feeds on grasses, herbs, leaves, fruits, and flowers. It can also browse on shrubs and trees, using its horns to break branches. It needs to drink water regularly, especially in summer, and will travel long distances to find it.
The kri-kri is a social animal that lives in small groups of 2-10 individuals, usually consisting of females and their young. Males are mostly solitary, except during the mating season, which occurs from October to December. During this time, males compete for females by fighting with their horns and making loud bleating sounds. Females give birth to one or two kids in April or May, after a gestation period of about 150 days. The kids are able to follow their mother soon after birth and are weaned at about 6 months of age. The kri-kri can live up to 15 years in the wild.
The conservation status of the kri-kri
The kri-kri is classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meaning that it faces a high risk of extinction in the wild. The main threats to its survival are:
- Hunting: The kri-kri has been hunted for its meat and horns since ancient times. During the German occupation of Crete in World War II, it was the only source of food for the mountain guerrillas. Today, hunting is strictly prohibited, but poaching still occurs.
- Habitat loss: The expansion of human activities, such as agriculture, tourism, and infrastructure development, has reduced and fragmented the natural habitat of the kri-kri. This has led to increased competition with domestic goats and sheep for food and space.
- Disease: The kri-kri is susceptible to diseases transmitted by domestic animals, such as scabies, foot-and-mouth disease, and brucellosis. These diseases can cause mortality or infertility in the wild population.
- Hybridization: The kri-kri has interbred with domestic goats, resulting in a loss of genetic purity and diversity. This can affect the adaptability and resilience of the wild population to environmental changes.
To protect the kri-kri from extinction, several conservation measures have been implemented, such as:
- Establishing protected areas: The Samaria Gorge National Park was created in 1962 to provide a safe haven for the kri-kri and other endemic species. Other smaller reserves have been established on the islets of Dia, Thodorou, and Agii Pantes.
- Monitoring and research: The kri-kri population is regularly monitored by park rangers and scientists to assess its status and trends. Research projects are conducted to study its ecology, behavior, genetics, and health.
- Public awareness and education: The kri-kri is a symbol of Crete and its culture, and its conservation is a matter of pride and responsibility for the local people. Various initiatives have been launched to raise public awareness and educate visitors about the importance and value of this unique animal.
How to see the kri-kri in Crete
If you want to see the kri-kri in Crete, you have two options:
- Visit one of the protected areas where it lives: The best place to see the kri-kri is the Samaria Gorge National Park, where you can hike through the stunning scenery and observe the wildlife. You can also visit the smaller reserves on the islets of Dia (near Heraklion), Thodorou (near Chania), or Agii Pantes (near Rethymno), where you can take a boat trip or join a guided tour.
- Visit a zoo or a wildlife park where it is kept in captivity: If you don’t have time or opportunity to visit the natural habitat of the kri-kri, you can still see it in some zoos or wildlife parks in Crete, such as Cretaquarium (near Heraklion), Aquaworld Aquarium (near Hersonissos), or Cretan Wildlife Park (near Rethymno). However, keep in mind that these animals are not purebred kri-kris, but hybrids with domestic goats.
Whichever option you choose, remember to respect the kri-kri and its environment. Do not feed, touch, or disturb it. Do not litter or damage its habitat. Do not take photos with flash or make loud noises. Keep a safe distance and enjoy watching this magnificent creature from afar.
The kri-kri is a wild goat that is endemic to Crete and can only be found there. It is a rare and beautiful animal that has a long history and a strong connection with the