The chamois is a mammalian animal, a detachment of artiodactyls. Chamois belongs to the bovid family. This is one of the smallest of its representatives. It is a prime example of the goat subfamily. The Latin name of the animal literally means “rock goat”. Indeed, chamois live in rocky areas, are well adapted to moving along them.
Origin of the species and description
It is believed that as a species of chamois originated from 250 thousand to 400 thousand years ago. There is still no definite answer about the origin of chamois. There are suggestions that the current scattered ranges of chamois are the remnants of a continuous area of u200bu200bdistribution of these animals in the past. All finds of remains date back to the Pleistocene period.
There are several subspecies of chamois, they differ in appearance and anatomy. Some scientists believe that these subspecies also have different origins. Subspecies live in different territories and for this reason do not interbreed. In total, seven subspecies of chamois are known. Two of them, the Anatolian and Carpathian chamois, according to some classifications, may belong to separate species. The names of the subspecies are somehow related to their immediate habitat, with the exception of the most common common chamois.
The closest relative is the Pyrenean chamois, although it has a similar name, but belongs to the hotel species. Chamois is a small animal. It has a compact, dense body with slender limbs, and the hind limbs are longer than the front ones. Reaches a height of almost 80 centimeters at the withers, the length of the limbs is half this value, the length of the body is slightly more than a meter, ends in a short tail, only a few centimeters, on the lower part of which there is no hair. The body weight of chamois in females is on average from 30 to 35 kilograms, while in males it can reach sixty kilograms. The neck is thin, usually from 15 to 20 cm in length.
Appearance and features
The muzzle of the chamois is miniature, short, narrowed. The eyes are large, the nostrils are narrow, slit-like. Right above the eyes, from the superciliary region, both males and females grow horns. They are smooth to the touch, round in cross section, curved backwards at the ends. In females, the horns are a quarter shorter than in males and are slightly less curved. In the back region there are openings containing peculiar glands; during the rut, they begin to work, emitting a specific smell. The ears are long, erect, pointed, about 20 cm. The hooves are well developed, leaving a trail about 6 cm wide.
The coat color of the chamois varies depending on the time of year. In winter, it takes on more contrasting shades, the outer parts of the limbs, neck and back are dark brown, and the inside and belly are light. In summer, the color changes to buffy, brown, as well as the inner and rear parts of the limbs are lighter than the outer sides and back. On the sides of the muzzle from the ear to the nose there are darker stripes, sometimes black. The rest of the hair on the muzzle, on the contrary, is lighter than the rest of the body, this adds contrast. With this color, chamois look very interesting and bright.
The average life expectancy of males is ten to twelve years. Females live from fifteen to twenty years. Such a lifespan can be considered long, since it is not typical for animals of such a small size.
Where does the chamois live?
Chamois live in mountainous areas at the junctions of rocky outcrops and forests. Both are necessary for their existence, so we can say that the chamois is a typical mountain forest animal. Chamois are distributed over a vast territory from east to west, from Spain to Georgia, and from Turkey and Greece in the south to Russia in the north, chamois live on all mountain systems. The number prevails in the most favorable regions of the Alps and the Caucasus.
It is noteworthy that six of the seven subspecies of chamois got their names from their habitats:
- Common chamois;
For example, the Anatolian (or Turkish) chamois lives in eastern Turkey and the northeastern part of the country, the Balkan chamois are found on the Balkan Peninsula, and the Carpathian chamois are found in the Carpathians. Chartres chamois are common in the west of the French Alps (the name comes from the Chartreuse mountain range). The Caucasian chamois, respectively, lives in the Caucasus, and the Tatra – in the Tatras. The common chamois is the most numerous subspecies, and therefore nominative. Such chamois are common in the Alps.
In summer, chamois climb higher to the rocky terrain at an altitude of about 3600 meters above sea level. In winter, they descend to a height of 800 meters and try to stay closer to forests, mainly coniferous ones, for an easier search for food. But chamois do not have pronounced seasonal migrations, unlike many other ungulates. Females that have just given birth also prefer to stay with their cubs in the forests at the foot of the mountains and avoid open areas. But as soon as the cub gets stronger, they go to the mountains together.
In the early 1900s, chamois were brought to New Zealand as a gift and within a hundred years were able to spread widely throughout the South Island. Now in this country hunting for chamois is even encouraged. Individuals living in New Zealand are not fundamentally different from European relatives, but at the same time, each individual weighs on average 20% less than the European one. It is noteworthy that there were two attempts to settle the chamois in the mountains of Norway, but both of them ended in failure – the animals died for unknown reasons.
What does the chamois eat?
Chamois are peaceful, herbivores. They eat pasture, mostly grass.
In the summer they also eat:
- leaves of trees;
- young shoots of shrubs and some trees.
In summer, chamois have no problems with food, as they find vegetation in abundance in their habitat. However, they can easily do without water. Morning dew and occasional rainfall are enough for them. In winter, the same herbs, leaves, cereals are used, but already in dried form and in smaller quantities. Food has to be dug out from under the snow.
Due to the lack of green food, chamois eat mosses and tree lichens, small branches of shrubs, the bark of some trees that can chew, willows or mountain ash, for example. Evergreens are also available in winter, spruce and pine needles, small fir branches serve as food. In the event of a serious lack of food, many chamois die. It happens regularly, every winter.
Character and lifestyle features
Like most other ungulates, chamois herd. They are cowardly and quick, at the slightest sense of danger they run into the forest or hide in the mountains. Chamois jump well and high, such terrain suits them very well — you will run away from enemies and bad weather. With strong winds, heavy rains and other cataclysms, chamois hide in mountain recesses and crevices.
Chamois feel more confident when they gather, at least in small groups of two or three individuals. The maximum number of individuals in the herd reaches hundreds, in places of their greatest distribution or in attempts to isolate themselves from other herd animals in the territory. In winter and spring, chamois gather mainly in small groups, so it is easier to find food and survive the cold. By summer, their numbers increase with offspring, and chamois calm down and graze in one large herd.
Chamois are able to communicate with each other. To communicate with each other, they use growls, positions of dominance and submission, as well as various ritualized views. Older individuals rarely separate from young ones, herds are usually mixed. In the first half of the day there is a long meal, after lunch the chamois rest. Moreover, they do this in turn, someone must observe the environment and, in which case, raise the alarm. In winter, animals are forced to constantly move in search of food and shelter. They usually descend closer to the forests, where there are less winds and dry remains of food.
Social Structure and Reproduction
In autumn, from mid-October, the chamois passes the mating season. Females secrete a special secret, to which males react, which means that they are ready to mate. They have mating season in November and December. After about 23 or 24 weeks (in some subspecies pregnancy lasts 21 weeks), a cub is born. The birth period falls on the time from mid-May to the first half of June.
Usually one goat is born in one female, but sometimes there are two. A few hours after birth, the cub can already move independently. Mothers feed them with milk for three months. Chamois can be considered social animals: in which case, other females from the herd can take care of the babies.
For the first two months, the herd has to stay closer to the forest. It is easier for cubs to move there and there is where to hide. In open areas, they would have more dangers. Goats develop quickly. By two months, they are already jumping smartly and are ready to go to the mountains after their parents. At the age of twenty months, chamois reach sexual maturity, and at the age of three they have their first cubs.
Young chamois, cubs and females stick together. The leader of the herd is an elderly female. Males are usually not in groups, preferring to join them during the mating season to fulfill their biological function. It is not uncommon for lone males to wander the mountains on their own.
Natural enemies of chamois
For chamois, predatory animals are dangerous, especially if they are larger than them in size. In the forests, wolves and bears can wait for them. The most dangerous chamois is alone; even such medium-sized predators as a fox or lynx can bite it. Despite the presence of horns that could serve for self-defense, chamois prefer not to defend themselves from attacks, but to flee.
Predators most often prey not on adults, but on their cubs, as they are still weak and vulnerable. Having strayed from the herd, the kid will most likely die: he still runs slowly and does not have sufficient dexterity to move along the rocks, he is not fully aware of the danger. He can fall under a collapse or an avalanche, fall off a cliff. Since it is still very tiny and weighs little, in addition to animals, birds of prey also pose a danger to it. For example, a golden eagle, which can grab a kid right on the fly, or a golden eagle that lives in France.
Avalanches and rockfalls also pose a danger to adults. There are cases when, in search of shelter, chamois ran into the mountains, but at the same time died from blockages. Another natural danger is hunger, especially during the winter season. Due to the fact that chamois are herd animals, they are highly susceptible to mass diseases. Some diseases, such as scabies, can destroy a large part of the herd.
Population and species status
Chamois populations are numerous and breed well. The total number of the species is about 400 thousand individuals. With the exception of the Caucasian chamois, which is in the “vulnerable” status and has only a little over four thousand individuals. Thanks to the protection over the past few years, there has been a growth trend in its number. The Chartres chamois is endangered, but scientists doubt the purity of its blood. The remaining five of the seven species have the status of Least Concern.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that it is wild conditions that are necessary for the normal continuation of the genus and the existence of chamois. Grazing in the mountain meadows somewhat oppresses the chamois, and they are forced to move in search of more secluded places. It is possible that with the development of cattle breeding, the number of chamois gradually decreased. This also applies to the promotion of tourism, mountain resorts, recreation centers in their habitats.
In the northern ranges, food may be scarce in winter and, according to recent data, populations of Tatra chamois living in northern Europe may be threatened with a decrease in population. The population of the Balkan chamois is about 29,000 individuals. The law even allows hunting them, but not in Greece and Albania. There, the subspecies was fairly hunted and now it is under protection. Hunting is also allowed for the Carpathian chamois. Her horns reach 30 cm and are considered a trophy. The most numerous populations live in the south of the Carpathians, in colder areas their density is sparse.
The Chartres chamois population has now decreased to 200 individuals, is listed in the IUCN Red Book, but this species of chamois is not seriously protected. Some scientists believe that the subspecies has been singled out in vain. According to genetic characteristics, it is only a local population of the Common chamois or has long lost its purity.
Protection of chamois
Only subspecies have protected status Caucasian chamois. They are listed in the Red Books in several regions and republics of the Caucasus and the Southern Federal District. The main reasons for the decline in the population at one time were anthropogenic factors, for example, the reduction of forests. At the same time, illegal mining makes almost no tangible contribution to this process.
Most individuals live in nature reserves, where they care about their living conditions. Tourists have limited access to them, and the impact of harmful factors is minimized. Deforestation is prohibited in the reserve, nature is strictly protected. Every individual in the reserve is watched. Thanks to this, the Caucasian chamois has been able to increase its population by one and a half times over the past 15 years.