Saturday, 18 February 2017

Spain 22: Chamois

Pyrenean Chamois
One of the characteristic mammals of the high mountains of Europe and the Caucasus is the chamois. There are actually two species, the Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra from the Alps and eastward, and the Pyrenean Chamois Rupicapra pyrenaica in the Pyrenees. It was the latter species that we found in the mountains on the French border.

Japanese Serow
Chamois belong to the Caprinae like goats, and are sometimes called goat-antelopes, but they are in a separate tribe, the Naemorhedini, which makes them more closely related to animals like the Japanese Serow Capricornus crispus or the Rocky Mountain Goat Oreamnus americanus. There are three subspecies of Pyrenean Chamois, distributes in the Pyrenees themselves, the Cantabrian Mountains, and in the Appenines on the Italian border. In summer they live above the tree line, browsing on grasses, herbs, and lichens. In the winter they move for shelter into the mountain forests and live on whatever they can, such as pine needles and tree bark.

Chamois do enter forests
Chamois are very small for goats, with a large mail standing around 80cm tall and weighing around 50kg, with females noticeably smaller. Mature males are solitary, with females and immatures living in groups. The rutting season is midwinter, with a single kid (sometimes twins) being born in May or June. The kid is weaned after 6 months and full grown at one year, with sexual maturity reached at around 3 or 4 years. The maximum recorded lifespan in the wild is 15 years, although captive individuals have reached 22.

Here is a video of males fighting during the rut:

Rocky Mountain Goat
With the decline of large predators in much of Europe Chamois have fewer natural enemies than in the past, but the recent resurgence of wolves, the only real predator of adults, has somewhat restored the natural balance. Kids face more threats owing to their size, and Golden Eagles regularly take them. The other major threat is human hunting, and unregulated hunting in the past threatened many populations across the range of both species. Better protection and regulation, as well as deliberate introductions, has resulted in a rebound in numbers and both are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

(images from Wikipedia)

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