A form of mange is attacking the stambecchi or ibex, a protected species of rock goat that lives in the Alps. The outbreak is centred in the area of the Marmolada and Valle del Franzedas in the Dolomite mountains near Belluno.

The illness is caused by a female mite that burrows deep into the skin of the ibex to lay her eggs. Within three weeks the animal has lesions and severe irritation of the skin that can kill it in two to four months.

The forest rangers are using helicopters in the worst hit areas to find the surviving ibex. Some are being treated in situ and others are being airlifted to the base at Malga Ciapela where they are being kept for treatment. It is feared that only 70 ibex remain in the area compared with 600 counted last year.

The mites can spread up to six kms a year and are putting at risk thousands of hoofed animals that live in the mountains. Emergency plans are being prepared in all the surrounding areas.