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[sha' mE] Rupicapra rupicapra
This antelope is about 4 feet long, stands 32 inches at the shoulder, and weighs about 20 pounds; does are smaller than bucks. Both sexes have horns, which rise vertically from the back of the head and then curve back and down; the horns may be 10 or more inches long, with those on females being slimmer.
The chamois has a coat of long hair and a thick underfur. Overall coloration is tawny in summer, dark brown to black in winter; the face, throat, and underparts are lighter. The most distinguishing features are a thin dark line down the middle of the black and dark brown bands on each side of the muzzle that extend from the mouth to the eyes and ears.
The chamois has remarkable senses of sight and hearing.
Distribution and Habitat
Chamois inhabit alpine meadows and forests throughout southern Europe into Asia Minor and the Caucasus. They spend most of the year at higher altitudes, but seldom above the tree line, and move downward at the approach of winter.
Habits and Behaviors
Cup-shaped depressions on the soles of the hooves allow for a firm hold on slippery rocks, and the points of the hooves can grip into all but icy surfaces. These adaptations, combined with a remarkable sense of sight, allow the chamois to navigate nearly sheer rock faces with ease. They can also leap upwards as high as 13 feet and can long jump as much as 23 feet to evade predators.
Adult bucks are solitary except during the rut, while does and young live in groups that merge into herds of hundreds for the rut.
The rut begins in mid-October and continues into December. Older males will drive younger males away from the herds, and may even kill them. Males also compete for females, and their battles can, and often do, end in the death of the loser.
One, rarely two or three, kid is born after a gestation of 153-180 days (mid-May to mid-June). The kid can follow its mother within minutes of birth, and gains its first "mountaineering" skills by jumping on and off its mother's back. The kid is weaned at 2-3 months, but will stay with its mother for up to 3 years. If a mother is killed other chamois will care for her young. Females reach sexual maturity at 2.5-3 years, males at 3.5-4 years. Females tend to stay close to their mothers' groups, while males establish their own "territories."
The lifespan of a wild chamois is 14-22 years.
Chamois are grazers and browsers, feeding on grass and other sparse mountain herbage, as well as lichens, conifer needles and pine shoots. They can go up to two weeks without food when the snow becomes too deep for foraging.
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This page was last updated on May 16, 2017.