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 )
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).
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
Catalog Number: USNM 174943
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
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.
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
Habitat and Ecology
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 )
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.
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)
- Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx)
- gray wolves (Canis lupus)
- humans (Homo sapiens)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
The lifespan of the chamois ranges from 14-22 years. (Huffman, 1999)
Status: wild: 14 to 22 years.
Status: wild: 20.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Rupicapra rupicapra
No available public DNA sequences.
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Rupicapra rupicapra
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
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.
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).
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.
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).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Chamois compete with domestic sheep for grazing. (Gortazar, 2000)
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
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.
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, in Cadore, Northern Veneto is called "ciamorza".
The usual pronunciation for the animal is UK // or US //, approximating the French pronunciation [ʃaˈmwa]. However, when referring to chamois leather, and in New Zealand often for the animal itself, it is //, 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: //, //, //. 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.
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:
- R. r. rupicapra (Alpine chamois): Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia, Slovakia (Veľká Fatra, Slovak Paradise)
- R. r. tatrica (Tatra chamois): Slovakia (Tatras and Low Tatras) and Poland (Tatras)
- R. r. balcanica (Balkan chamois): Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, northern Greece (The Pindus Mountains), Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Slovenia (isolated populations)
- R. r. carpatica (Carpathian chamois): Romania
- R. r. cartusiana (Chartreuse chamois): France
- R. r. asiatica (Anatolian chamois or Turkish chamois): Turkey
- R. r. caucasica (Caucasian chamois): Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russian Federation
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). Males, which weigh 30–60 kg (66–132 lb), are slightly larger than females, which weigh 25–45 kg (55–99 lb). 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
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 usually born in May or early June - on rare occasions, twins may be born. If a mother is killed, other females in the herd may try to raise the kid. The kid is weaned at six months of age and is fully grown by one year of age. However, the kids do not reach sexual maturity until they are three to four years old, although some females may mate at as early two years old. 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 eight to nine years of age.
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.
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. At present, humans are the main predator of Chamois. In the past, the principal predators were Eurasian lynxes and gray wolves; with some predation possibly by brown bears and golden eagles. 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).
Distribution and habitat
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
Alpine chamois arrived in New Zealand in 1907 as a gift from the Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph I in exchange for specimens of living ferns, rare birds and lizards. Mr Albert E.L. Bertling, formerly head keeper of the Zoological Society's Gardens, Regents Park, London, accepted an invitation from the New Zealand Government to deliver a consignment of chamois (two bucks and six does) to the colony. They arrived in Wellington, New Zealand on the 23rd January, 1907 on board the "SS Turakina". From Wellington the chamois were transhipped to the "Manaroa" and conveyed to Lyttelton, then by rail to Fairlie in South Canterbury and a four day horse trek to Mount Cook. The first surviving releases were made in the Aoraki/Mount Cook region and these animals gradually spread over much of the South Island.
New Zealand chamois tend to weigh about 20% less than European individuals of the same age, suggesting that food supplies may be limited.
Hunting and wildlife management
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 is that they tend to look for danger from below, which means that a hunter stalking chamois from above is less likely to be observed and more likely to be successful.
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, 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, PVA, and Viscos which have similar qualities, can be used as a fake-chamois fabric.
- Aulagnier, S., Giannatos, G. & Herrero, J. (2008). Rupicapra rupicapra. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 5 April 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.
- Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora at EUR-Lex
- Mineral Supply and Fertility of Chamois
- Current status of the Balkan chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra balcanica) in Greece : Implications for conservation at Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
- Macdonald, D.W.; Barrett , P. (1993). Mammals of Europe. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09160-9.
- Dan Gunderson. "ADW: Rupicapra rupicapra: INFORMATION". Animal Diversity Web.
- A Note on the Chamois in New Zealand at New Zealand Ecological Society
- Recreational hunting in Nelson/Marlborough - Chamois at the Department of Conservation
- Heritage Preservation (p. 40 and 45) at the Department of Conservation
- "Trophy Chamois Buck Hunting New Zealand Free Range Safari Park Record Horns".
- "Beginners Chamois Hunting Guide".