Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The nimble chamois are well suited to the harsh terrain of the mountain ranges they inhabit. They are prodigious runners, capable of reaching speeds of 50 kilometres per hour on uneven ground, and daring leapers that can jump almost two metres in height and at least six metres in length (2). While in the summer months, chamois can feed on a relatively plentiful diet of herbs and flowers, during winter they turn to lichens, mosses and young pine shoots, and are able to survive for up to two weeks without food when snow blankets any sources of sustenance (2). Female chamois with their young generally live in herds of 15 to 30 individuals. Herds are believed to post 'sentinels' that warn the other members of the herd of any danger by stomping their feet and calling with a high-pitched whistle. Adult males live on their own for most of the year, but join the herds in late summer, in time for the autumn rut. During the rut, often in November, old, strong males drive the younger males away from the herd, and occasionally kill them (2). Following mating, and after a 170 day gestation period, females separate themselves from the herd to give birth in May and June. Females usually bear a single kid, giving birth in a shelter of grass and lichens. The kids are able to follow their mother immediately after they are born and are weaned after just two to three months. While female kids may remain with their mother's herds, young males leave the herd at the age of two or three. They then have a nomadic existence until they reach full maturity, at the age of eight or nine, when they become attached to a definite area (2).
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Description

The chamois is an agile and graceful animal (2), adapted to cold, highland terrain (3). Its winter coat consists of thick, woolly underfur and long guard hairs, suited to conserving heat in its chilly alpine habitat, and the somewhat elastic pads of the hooves provide reassuring grip on uneven and slippery ground (2). The winter coat is blackish-brown, with a white patch on the rump and white to yellow facial stripes (3), while in spring and summer, this is shed for a lighter tawny-brown coat of short, stiff, coarse hairs (2). Both male and female chamois bear slender, black horns. Measuring up to 203 millimetres, the closely set horns rise almost vertically from the forehead and then bend abruptly backwards to form hooks (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

The northern chamois is native to mountainous parts of central and southern Europe and Asia Minor, where it occurs as seven subspecies: balcanica, carpatica, cartusiana, rupicapra, tatrica, asiatica and caucasica(Shackleton 1997, Pedrotti and Lovari 1999). It occurs from 500 m to 3,100 m asl in the Alps (Spitzenberger 2002). It has been introduced to Argentina and New Zealand (not mapped).

The subspecies asiatica occurs widely in eastern and northeastern Turkey.

The subspecies balcanica inhabits most of the mountain regions of Albania, as well as Bulgaria's four main massifs. In Greece, it is currently restricted to 11 mountains, and comprising at least six distinct and widely scattered population groups from Mount Rodopi in the northeast and the Epirus mountains in the northwest, to Mount Giona in central Greece (Shackleton 1997).

The subspecies carpatica occurs in many populations throughout the Transylvania alps and the Carpathian mountains. There have been a number of successful re-introductions (Shackleton 1997).

The subspecies cartusiana is endemic to France, where it is restricted to a 350 km2 area of the Chartreuse limestone massif, centred around Grenoble, at the western edge of the French Alps.

The subspecies caucasica is restricted to the Caucasus Mountains in southern Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. It occurs on both sides of the Greater Caucasus from just east of Pshada River near Gelendjik, southeast for about 900 km to Mount Babadag in Azerbaijan (Alekperov et al., 1976; Durov, 1977). Although still relatively continuously distributed, it becomes increasingly less numerous east of North Ossetia, particularly in Daghestan, and more occur on the southern slopes in Azerbaijan than on northern ones. However, its range in the Greater Caucasus is beginning to fragment all over. In the Caucasus Minor, populations are scattered and isolated, and are confined mainly to the Meskhet and Trialeti ridges in Georgia, which are the wetter parts of the Caucasus Minor.

The subspecies rupicapra is found in the Alps of Austria, Germany, and eastern France.

The subspecies tatrica occurs in the Tatra mountains of Poland and Slovakia. In Slovakia, it has also been introduced to the Low Tatras (Shackleton 1997).
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Geographic Range

The range of Rupricapra rupicapra, or chamois, includes the Pyrenees, the mountains of south and central Europe, Turkey, and the Caucasus in Asia. It has been introduced on the South Island of New Zealand. (Huffman, 1999; Nowak, 1999)

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); australian (Introduced )

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Range

Occurs in mountain ranges of south-central Europe and Asia Minor, including the Alps, Carpathians, Balkans, and Caucasus, where it occurs as seven subspecies. The chamois has also been introduced to New Zealand (2) (3).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Weight: 25 to 50 kg; Shoulder Height: 70 to 80 cm; Length 110 to135 cm. Chamois are a chestnut color but are lighter in the spring and summer. In the winter these animals grow long guard hairs over their dark brown under fur. Under parts are pale and the rump is white at the tail. A dark brown band runs from each side of the muzzle to the ears and eyes, and the rest of the head and throat is white. The horns of the male rise directly above the head then hook sharply back at the tips. The female also has horns, which although slimmer than the male's, can be longer. The female is smaller than the male. The hooves of the chamois are excellent for gripping slippery rock. (Nowak, 1999)

Range mass: 30 to 50 kg.

Range length: 110 to 135 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes shaped differently; ornamentation

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Type Information

Type for Rupicapra rupicapra
Catalog Number: USNM 174943
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Sex/Stage: Male;
Preparation: Skin; Skull
Collector(s): Collector Unknown
Year Collected: 1911
Locality: Passo Mandrioli, Near Headwaters Of Savio River, Etruscan Apennines, Tuscana, Italy, Europe
  • Type: Miller, G. S. 1912 Jul 31. Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash. 25: 131.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Alpine chamois inhabit steep, rocky areas in the mountains, utilizing a variety of habitats including alpine meadows, open rocky areas, mixed broadleaf woodland, and coniferous woodland (Pedrotti and Lovari 1999). This species occupies rocky areas and alpine meadows, and feeds on grasses, herbs, leaves of trees, buds, shoots, and fungi (Sägesser and Krapp 1986). Females gestate for 170 days, and usually have 1 offspring per pregnancy. Females are sexually mature at 2.5 years, while males mature 1-1.5 years later. They live 14-22 years. Females and young occur in flocks of 5-30 animals, while adult males remain solitary.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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R. rupricapra lives in alpine and sub alpine meadows above the timberline. It winters in forested areas and steep slopes where snow does not accumulate. It is found in both relatively steep and flatter terrain. (Nowak, 1999)

Habitat Regions: temperate

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; mountains

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During the spring and summer months, chamois inhabit alpine meadows, generally above altitudes of 1,800 metres and never more than a few hundred metres from the safe refuge of cliffs. In autumn and winter, chamois can be found at lower altitudes, often below 1,100 metres, where they stay on steep slopes where snow does not accumulate, and sometimes enter forests (2).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

During the summer months the diet consists chiefly of herbs and flowers, but in winter the chamois eats lichens, mosses, and young pine shoots. It has been known to fast for two weeks and survive when the snow is so deep that food can not be found. (Nowak, 1999)

Plant Foods: leaves; flowers; bryophytes; lichens

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

This species provides food for two interesting predators, the eurasian lynx and the wolf. As a grazer, it also affects the plant community within its habitat.

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Predation

Eurasian lynx and wolves are the main predator of the chamois. (Gortazar, 2000). They are also hunted by humans. When alarmed, these animals flee to inaccesible locations. They can travel at speeds of up to 50 km per hour. They can jump 2 meters into the air, and a distance of up to 6 meters. (Nowak, 1999)

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Rupicapra rupicapra is prey of:
Homo sapiens
Lynx lynx
Canis lupus

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Known prey organisms

Rupicapra rupicapra preys on:
Bryophyta
lichens

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Life Cycle

Development

See Reproduction.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

The lifespan of the chamois ranges from 14-22 years. (Huffman, 1999)

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
14 to 22 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
20.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 17.6 years (captivity) Observations: Males are only fully mature at 8-9 years. Potential longevity has been estimated at 22 years (Ronald Nowak 1999), which is possible. Record longevity in captivity, however, is 17.6 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Males are generally solitary except during the breeding season. They join herds during the late summer. Older males are known to force younger males from the herd, and sometimes have killed them (Nowak, 1999). It is likely that breeding is polygynous.

Mating System: polygynous

After a gestation period of 170 days, kids are born in May and June in a shelter of grass and lichens. There is usually only one kid born to a female, but twins and triplets sometimes occur. Young weigh 2 o 3kg each and are weaned after 2 to 3 months. The precocial kids are able to follow their mother almost immediately after they are born and they rapidly improve their leaping ability within the first few days of life. If a mother is killed, other chamois take care of the young. Young males stay with the mother's group until they are 2 to 3 years old and then live nomadically until they are fully mature at 8 to 9 years, when they become attached to a definite area. Sexual maturity is reached at the age of 2.5 years in females and 3.5 to 4 years in males. (Nowak, 1999; Huffman, 1999)

Breeding season: Breeding occurs from October through December, with young born in May and June.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.

Range gestation period: 5.33 to 6.17 months.

Range weaning age: 2 to 3 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2.5 to 4 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2.5 to 4 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); viviparous

Average birth mass: 2400 g.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Young are precocial and able to follow their mother shortly after birth. The mother produces milk for the young, and nurses them for 2-3 months. Should the mother be killed, other chamois will care for the young. (Nowak, 1999)

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; post-independence association with parents

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Rupicapra rupicapra

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


No available public DNA sequences.

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Rupicapra rupicapra

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Aulagnier, S., Giannatos, G. & Herrero, J.

Reviewer/s
Hilton-Taylor, C. & Temple, H. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
The northern chamois is widespread and has a large population of over 440,000 individuals. Although it is declining in some parts of its European and global range, the bulk of the population is found in the Alps and is relatively secure. Consequently it is assessed as Least Concern. However, several chamois subspecies qualify as globally threatened, and require urgent conservation action.


The following subspecies assessments are from the European Mammal assessment:

R. r. tatrica - Listed as Critically Endangered (CR) C2a(ii) - has a very small population of less than 200 individuals and there is a projected continuing decline due to the problem of potential interbreeding. [Listed in 2000 as CR C2b]

R. r. cartusiana - Listed as Vulnerable (VU) D1. Is confined to a single mountain, the population is probably <1,000 mature individuals and there is no continuing decline. If the population is found to be larger than this, the status might have to be changed to Near Threatened.
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In the Caucasus Mountains, Tatra Mountains that run along the border of Poland and Slovakia, and in Massif de la Chartreuse in South Eastern France, excessive hunting, loss of habitat, competition with livestock, and harassment by people and dogs have greatly reduced the number of chamois. Otherwise, chamois now are generally increasing in number and have been introduced and reintroduced in various parts of Europe. Population in Europe is about 400,000. (Nowak 1999)

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Status

Classified as Lower Risk / Least Concern (LR/lc) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1). The Tatra chamois (R. r. tatrica) and Chartreuse chamois (R. r. cartusiana) are classified as Critically Endangered (CR), the Caucasian chamois (R. r. caucasica) is classified as Vulnerable (VU), the Balkan chamois (R. r. balcanica), the Carpathian chamois (R. r. carpatica) and the Alpine chamois (R. r. rupicapra) are classified as Lower Risk / Least Concern (LR/lc), and the Turkish chamois (R. r. asiatica) is classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).
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Population

Population
The northern chamois is widespread and generally increasing. Excluding the Caucasus population, there are an estimated 440,000 individuals in Europe, and in some protected areas densities may exceed 20 individuals per hectare (Pedrotti and Lovari 1999, S. Lovari pers. comm. 2006). However, with the exception of the Alpine subspecies R. r. rupicapra, many subspecies are rare and/or declining:

R. r. asiatica: There is very little data on the status of this subspecies, but it is believed to have undergone substantial declines.

R. r. balcanica: The total population numbers some thousands of individuals. Numbers are believed to be declining in all subpopulations (Shackleton 1997).

R. r. carpatica: In 1990, the total population was estimated to be around 9,000 animals (Shackleton 1997). I. Coroui (pers. comm. 2006) confirmed that the population of this subspecies in Romania is increasing.

R. r. cartusiana: The population was estimated at 300 to 400 individuals in the 1970s, and 150 individuals in 1986-1987, but has since increased to c. 2,000 individuals (S. Lovari pers. comm. 2006).

R. r. caucasica: There is very little data on the status of this subspecies, but it is declining and has virtually disappeared outside protected areas. The total population was estimated in the early 1990s to be c. 15,000 chamois, with about half in the western half of the Greater Caucasus and only ca. 500 in the Caucasus Minor. Of total chamois, an estimated 5,000 occur in Georgia. Numbers of this chamois have decreased drastically over the last 20 years throughout their range, and are still declining. Over the last two to three years, the decline has accelerated and numbers are believed to have been reduced by as much as 50% (P. Weinberg, unpubl. data).

R. r. rupicapra: This subspecies comprises the bulk of the global northern chamois population, and is widespread and abundant in the Alps. The number of individuals culled per year in the Swiss Alps and Jura mountains has increased steadily from c.4,000 individuals in 1950 to c.17,000 individuals in 2000 (Loison et al. 2003).

R. r. tatrica: The population was estimated at 220 in 1999 (Jurdíková 2000), and had dropped below 200 by 2002 (S. Lovari pers. comm. 2006). Numbers have been declining steadily since the 1960s (Jurdíková 2000).

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
Poaching and over-hunting may be a problem for the species in parts of its range, especially where it occurs outside protected areas and private hunting reserves (Shackleton 1997, Jurdíková 2000). Many of the less numerous subspecies (e.g. R. r. balcanica, R. r. cartusiana, and R. r. tatrica) are threatened by the deliberate introduction of subspecies from other geographic areas (especially R. r. rupicapra), leading to hybridisation and genetic swamping (Shackleton 1997). Human disturbance, particularly as a result of increased tourism and leisure activities in mountain areas, may also be a problem (Shackleton 1997, Jurdíková 2000). Competition with domestic livestock and introduced species such as the mouflon Ovis aries is a threat to the more vulnerable subspecies, although it is not considered to be a major problem for R. r. rupicapra. R. r. rupicapra does, however, suffer periodic outbreaks of sarcoptic mange, causing local population declines (Shackleton 1997). In 2006 a new disease, pestivirus, was first recorded in this subspecies (J. Herrero pers. comm. 2006). In general, habitat loss is not a major threat to the species, as much of its range falls within protected areas. However, habitat loss may be a problem in some areas (e.g. for subspecies balcanica in Albania) (Shackleton 1997). Because its population is very small indeed, subspecies cartusiana is susceptible to extinction as a result of stochastic demographic or environmental events (Shackleton 1997, S. Lovari pers. comm. 2006).

Rupicapra rupicapra asiatica
The main threats are poaching and competition with livestock, coupled with natural predation (Shackleton 1997).

Rupicapra rupicapra balcanica
In Albania, habitat loss is a major threat in some regions due to land demands from expanding human populations. There appears to be no competition from domestic livestock. Poaching does occur but the extent is not known. In Bulgaria, the major threat is hybridization with Alpine chamois. In Rhodope this is almost complete, and is also a potential danger at Rila. The Balkan population which has been isolated for about 100 years is still small and vulnerable, and poaching has not yet been eliminated. The majority of the populations in Rila and Pirin are not directly threatened, but neighbouring populations are potentially threatened by hybridization. Outside the protected areas, poaching remains a problem. In Greece, poaching facilitated by road developments, and predation by feral dogs are the main threats to chamois survival (Hatzirvassanis, 1991). Another serious threat is domestic livestock grazing which creates ecological competition and habitat loss, and all three threats occur both within and outside national parks (Hatzirvassanis, 1991; Tsunis, 1988). Forestry and tourist developments are the main causes of increased road construction, which in turn create access for poachers. In some areas, recreation activities may significantly disturb chamois (Adamakopoulos, in prep.).

Rupicapra rupicapra carpatica
Grazing by domestic sheep in summer tends to disturb chamois causing them to be more dispersed. In some areas, high densities of these domestic animals create intense grazing pressure.

Rupicapra rupicapra cartusiana
Many factors threaten this subspecies, and the most important include: food and space competition with domestic livestock, red deer and introduced mouflon; hybridization with introduced Alpine chamois; over-harvesting and poaching; forestry; summer tourism and winter cross-country skiers.

Rupicapra rupicapra caucasica
Until recently, this chamois was common in the western half of the Greater Caucasus but very rare in Daghestan where they are often displaced by wild goats (Capra aegagrus). The reason for the decline in numbers in some populations, even in protected areas, is unknown, although outside of these areas, poaching related to political unrest is a major threat. In some areas, competition with domestic livestock is a problem, and competition with tur, red deer (Cervus elaphus), and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) is also possible.

Rupicapra rupicapra rupicapra
Sarcoptic mange is a problem in Austria and will continue to be so unless measures are taken to prevent its spread. There are also concerns about the relative over-harvesting of older males (e.g. Zeiler et al., 1990, 1992). Although not threatened overall in Germany, the small sub-alpine populations are vulnerable to poaching and stochastic events, and possibly to inbreeding depression. Disturbance acts as a major threat to small populations and has caused declines in some. Unless steps are taken to reverse this threat, declines will continue and most small populations are on the verge of extinction. Even large populations face threats. Numbers in the Bavarian Alps are currently decreasing due to sharply increased harvest rates. Tourist development has also affected many subpopulations negatively (e.g., disturbance, habitat isolation). In Italy, competition with introduced mouflon may cause problems for Alpine chamois in some parts of its range.

Rupicapra rupicapra tatrica
Major threats include poaching, because access to firearms is now relatively easy, and disturbance and habitat loss caused by tourists. An estimated three million people visited Tatra National Park in 1990. In Slovakia, interbreeding with animals from introduced populations of Alpine chamois threaten one of the two remaining populations of R. r. tatrica. Both populations are relatively small and their effective population sizes may make the maintenance of genetic diversity and adaptability limited over the long-term.
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With the exception of the Alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra rupicapra), many other subspecies of the chamois are rare and many populations are declining (4). Such declines are due to a combination of factors. The flesh of chamois is prized by some people, the skin is made into shammy leather for cleaning glass and polishing cars, and winter hair from the back is used to make 'gamsbart', the brush of Tyrolean hats (2). This has led, in some areas, to excessive hunting (2), and poaching remains a threat to many populations, particularly outside of protected areas (4). Habitat loss is impacting some subspecies, such as in Albania where suitable habitat is being lost to expanding human populations, as is competition with domestic livestock. Hybridisation with the Alpine chamois poses a threat to a number of the subspecies and sarcoptic mange (a skin disease) is also a problem in some regions (4). The two Critically Endangered subspecies, the Chartreuse chamois (R. r. cartusiana) and the Tatra chamois (R. r. tatrica) face many of the threats mentioned above, which are compounded by their small populations and limited distribution. The Chartreuse chamois is restricted to a 350 square kilometre area of the Chartreuse massif, at the western edge of French Alps, where an official census in 1986-87 estimated the population to consist of a minimum of 150 individuals. Only two populations of the Tatra chamois remain; one in the Tatra National Park, Poland and Slovakia, and another introduced population occurs in the Low Tatra National Park, Slovakia. Such small populations are vulnerable to natural disasters, disease, and a loss of genetic diversity (4).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The species is listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention. The subspecies balcanica is listed on Annexes II and IV of the EU Habitats and Species Directive, and subspecies tatrica is listed on Annexes II* and IV. Chamois occur in many protected areas. The subspecies cartusiana has been subject to intensive conservation management, including r-eintroductions. Detailed conservation recommendations for the species were given in Shackleton (1997). In general, conservation recommendations that apply to all subspecies include ensuring that any harvest is sustainable (through research, legislation, and international cooperation), reducing poaching (through legislation, enforcement, education and awareness-raising, and provision of alternative livelihoods where necessary), reducing the impacts of human disturbance (by providing refugia in areas with intense tourism), and protecting the genetic integrity of populations (by avoiding translocations of 'foreign' subspecies that could hybridise with the local population) (Shackleton 1997). Monitoring of all subspecies is required, especially those that are rare and/or declining.

To protect the High Tatras subspecies, Jurdíková (2000) recommends reducing illegal hunting (by closing and guarding parts of the western Tatra mountains). R. r. rupicapra introduced into Slovakia (e.g. the Lower Tatras National Park) should be removed as they pose a threat to the wild population of R. r. tatrica (Shackleton 1997).
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Conservation

While the chamois is, as a species, still common, a number of the subspecies are threatened and require conservation action. The Chartreuse chamois has, since 1972, been the focus of conservation measures, beginning with efforts to educate local hunters. The hunters formed a Chamois Management Unit and together implemented measures including a shooting moratorium, lasting several years, and limiting livestock grazing on upland pastures. The efforts were a success, with the population multiplying by five between 1985 and 1997, but the population still faces threats, particularly hybridisation with the Alpine chamois (5). The Critically Endangered Tatra chamois is protected by law in Poland and Slovakia, and occurs solely within two national parks, each of which includes an area in which public access is strictly controlled to eliminate any disturbance during winter and during the birth season. Control of sheep grazing in Tatra National Park led to an increase in population numbers, but more recently numbers have again declined, possibly due to poor weather conditions and poaching (4). Although not so greatly threatened, the other five subspecies are subject to varying hunting laws and legal protection, occur in numerous protected areas, and some, such as the Balkan chamois and Carpathian chamois, have been successfully introduced to further areas (4).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Chamois compete with domestic sheep for grazing. (Gortazar, 2000)

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The meat of chamois is considered a prized food by some people. The skin is made into chamois (pronounces "shammy") leather for cleaning glass and polishing automobiles. The winter hair from the back is used to make the "gamsbart," the brush of Tyrelean hats. Chamois also bring increased tourism through hunting. (Nowak, 1999, Gortazar 2000)

Positive Impacts: food ; ecotourism

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Wikipedia

Chamois

For other uses, see Chamois (disambiguation).

The chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) is a goat-antelope species native to mountains in Europe, including the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, the Pyrenees, the European Alps, the Tatra Mountains, the Balkans, parts of Turkey, and the Caucasus. The chamois has also been introduced to the South Island of New Zealand. Some subspecies of chamois are strictly protected in the EU under the European Habitats Directive.[2]

Names[edit]

Chamois herd engraved on reindeer antler from Gourdan grotto, Haute Garonne.

The English name comes from French chamois. This is derived from Gaulish camox (attested in Latin, 5th century), itself perhaps a borrowing from some Alpine language (Raetic, Ligurian). The Gaulish form also underlies German Gemse, Gams, Gämse and Italian Camoscio.

The usual pronunciation for the animal is UK /ˈʃæmwɑː/ or US /ʃæmˈwɑː/, approximating the French pronunciation [ʃaˈmwa]. However when referring to chamois leather, and in New Zealand often for the animal itself, it is /ˈʃæmi/, and sometimes spelt "shammy" or "chamy". The plural of "chamois" is spelled the same as the singular, and it may be pronounced with the final "s" sounded: /ˈʃæmwɑːz/, /ʃæmˈwɑːz/, /ˈʃæmiz/. However, as with many other quarry species, the plural for the animal is often pronounced the same as the singular.

The Dutch name for the chamois is gems, and the male is called a gemsbok. In Afrikaans, the name "gemsbok" came to refer to a species of Subsaharan antelope of the genus Oryx, and this meaning of "gemsbok" has been adopted into English.

Taxonomy[edit]

There are two species of chamois in the genus Rupicapra: R. rupicapra and R. pyrenaica, which occurs in the Pyrenees (R. p. pyrenaica), Cantabrian mountains (R. p. parva, Cantabrian Chamois), and the Apennines (R. p. ornata). The chamois (along with sheep and goats) are in the goat-antelope subfamily (Caprinae) of the family Bovidae.

The chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) is categorized into several subspecies:

Abruzzo chamois (R. p. ornata) on the Gran Sasso mountain

Description[edit]

The chamois is a mid-sized bovid. A fully grown chamois reaches a height of 70–80 cm (28–31 in) and measures 107–137 cm (42–54 in) (the tail is not generally visible except when defecating).[5] Males, which weigh 30–60 kg (66–132 lb), are slightly larger than females, which weigh 25–45 kg (55–99 lb).[5] Both males and females have short, straightish horns which are hooked backwards near the tip, the horn of the male being thicker. In summer, the fur has a rich brown colour which turns to a light grey in winter. Distinct characteristics are white contrasting marks on the sides of the head with pronounced black stripes below the eyes, a white rump and a black stripe along the back.

Biology and behaviour[edit]

Female chamois and their young live in herds of up to 100 individuals; adult males tend to live solitarily for most of the year. During the rut (late November/early December in Europe, May in New Zealand), males engage in fierce battles for the attention of unmated females. An impregnated female undergoes a gestation period of 170 days, after which a single kid is born in May or early June, although rarely twins may be born.[5] If a mother is killed, other females in the herd may try to raise them.[6] The kid is weaned at 6 months of age and is fully grown by 1 year of age. However, the kids do not reach sexual maturity until they are 3 to 4 years old, although some females may mate at as early 2 years old.[5] At sexual maturity, young males are forced out of their mother's herds by dominant males (who sometimes kill them), and then wander somewhat nomadically until they can establish themselves as mature breeding specimens at 8 to 9 years of age.[6]

Chamois eat various types of vegetation, including highland grasses and herbs during the summer and conifers, barks and needles from trees in winter. Primarily diurnal in activity, they often rest around mid-day and may actively forage during moonlit nights.[5]

Chamois can reach an age of 22 years in captivity, although the maximum recorded in the wild is from 15 to 17 years of age. Common causes of mortality can include avalanches, epidemics and predation. The main predators of Chamois are Eurasian Lynxes and Gray Wolves, although a few may predated by Brown Bears and Golden Eagles as well.[5] The main predator of chamois now are humans. Chamois usually use speed and stealthy evasion to escape predators and can run at 50 kilometers per hour (31 mph) and can jump 2 m (6.6 ft) vertically into the air or over a distance of 6 m (20 ft).[6]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Holocene distribution (grey) and recent range (red) of the Chamois

Chamois are naturally distributed in the Pyrenees, the mountains of south and central Europe, Turkey, and the Caucasus in Asia. They live at moderately high altitudes and are adapted to living in precipitous, rugged, rocky terrain. They can be found at elevations of at least 3,600 m (11,800 ft). In Europe, Chamois spend their summers above the tree line in meadows. When winter rolls around, they go to lower elevations, of around 800 m (2,600 ft), to live in forests, mainly in areas dominated by pines.

Chamois in New Zealand[edit]

Alpine chamois arrived in New Zealand in 1907 as a gift from the Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph I. The first surviving releases were made in the Aoraki/Mount Cook region and these animals gradually spread over much of the South Island.[7][8]

In New Zealand, hunting of chamois is unrestricted and even encouraged by the Department of Conservation to limit the animal's impact on New Zealand's native alpine flora.[8][9]

New Zealand chamois tend to weigh about 20% less than European individuals of the same age, suggesting that food supplies may be limited.[10]

Chamois on the Piz Beverin mountain, Switzerland

Hunting and wildlife management[edit]

As their meat is considered tasty, chamois are popular game animals. Chamois have two traits that are exploited by hunters. The first is that they are most active in the morning and evening when they feed. The second trait is that chamois tend to look for danger from below. This means that a hunter stalking chamois from above is less likely to be observed and more likely to be successful.[11]

The tuft of hair from the back of the neck, the gamsbart (chamois "beard"), is traditionally worn as a decoration on hats throughout the alpine countries.

Chamois leather[edit]

Main article: Chamois leather
Chamois leather

Chamois leather, traditionally made from the hide of the chamois, is very smooth and absorbent and is favoured in cleaning, buffing, and polishing because it produces no scratching. Modern chamois leather may be made from chamois hides, but hides of deer or domestic goats or sheep are commonly used, and cotton flannel can be used as a fake-chamois fabric, with similar qualities.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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