Rupicapra rupicaprachamois

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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)

Habitat

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)

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)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes shaped differently
  • ornamentation
  • Range mass
    30 to 50 kg
    66.08 to 110.13 lb
  • Range length
    110 to 135 cm
    43.31 to 53.15 in

Development

See Reproduction.

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.

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
  • Average number of offspring
    1
    AnAge
  • 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

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)

Lifespan/Longevity

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

Behavior

Females and young males are gregarious, while adult males are solitary and aggressive in the rutting season. These breeding males drive younger males away from the maternal herds, occasionally killing them. The majority of females are philopatric whereas males have a relatively high dispersal rate. Chamois announce danger with a whistling sound and foot stamping. When alarmed, these animals flee to the most innaccessible places, often making prodigous leaps. They can jump almost 2 meters in height and at least 6 meters in length, and can run at speeds of 50 km/hr on uneven ground. R. rupicapra is primarily diurnal, and mates in the period between the end of October and December. Offspring are born in May-June. (Loison, 1999; Huffman, 1999; Nowak, 1999)

Communication and Perception

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

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)

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.

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)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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

Conservation Status

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)

Contributors

Dan Gunderson (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tundra

A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Gortazar, C., J. Herrero, R. Villafuerte, J. Marco. 2000. Historical examination of the status of large mammals in Aragon, Spain. Mammalia, 64: 411-422.

Grzimek, B. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York. Vol. 5 pp 495-499: McGraw-Hill.

Huffman, B. 1999. "The Ultimate Ungulate Page: Chamois" (On-line). Accessed October 13, 2001 at http://www.ultimateungulate.com/chamois.html.

Loison, A., J. Jullien, P. Menaut. 1999. Subpopulation structure and dispersal in two populations of chamois. Journal of Mammalogy, 80: 620-632.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.