Chamois

These agile mountain goats used to be extensively hunted for their hides, which were manufactured into chamois leather used for polishing cars and glass.

There are two distinct species of chamois, both found in mountainous areas of Europe. They are both quite similar in appearance and behaviour, but this species - Rupicapra pyrenaica - has a more restricted distribution, is rarer than the other, and is now dependent on conservation efforts for its survival.

One of the reasons that chamois are rare is because they were hunted excessively for their meat - considered a delicacy in some regions - and for their hides, which were once made into high-quality leather for polishing glass. Chamois are well adapted to living in mountainous habitats, and are very agile. When they are alarmed, they can bound up steep rocky slopes, and can leap almost 2 m (6.5 ft) straight up to get to inaccessible rocks.

Chamois have long, thick fur to keep them warm in alpine conditions. Animals possess the distinctively slender, sharp horns, which are shaped like upside-down "J"s.

Chamois live in small herds, usually consisting of females and their young. In autumn, males join the herds to compete for females, fighting each other with their sharp horns. Female herd members will often help one another. If a mother dies, other females will look after the young, and the animals are generally thought to take it in turns to stand guard while the rest of the herd feeds.

In the summer herds of chamois graze on the plants in alpine meadows, but in the winter food is harder to find. They will eat shoots of pines, and have been known to survive without feeding at all for two weeks. Chamois themselves — especially the young - can fall prey to species including bears and wolves.

Distribution: Occurs in the mountainous regions of central and southern Europe, notably in the Alps and Carpathians, extending through parts of Asia Minor to the Caucasus.

Habitat: Alpine meadows.

Weight: 14 - 62 kg (31 - 136 lb).

Length: 120 - 145 cm (47 - 57 in), including tail.

Maturity: Females about 2.5 years; males 3.5 - 4 years.

Gestation Period: About 170 days; young are weaned by about 6 months.

Breeding: 1, occasionally 2 or 3.

Food: Herbivorous, grazing on grass but also browsing taller plants; lichen, moss and pine shoots.

Lifespan: Typically around 14 years, but can live up to 22.

Status: Endangered.

Coat

This varies in appearance throughout the year, and is shorter and lighter both in weight and colour during the summer.

Horns

The horns measure up to 20 cm (8 in) and occur in both sexes. They are quite slender, curling over at their tips.

Hooves

Chamois have slightly elastic pads on their hooves, which act as shock absorbers, helping them to maintain their balance.

BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL

If a female chamois dies, other herd members will look after any offspring. Deaths are most common during winter.

Gallery of Chamois