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Additional Information Image Type(s): Wildlife

Rupicapra rupicapra and R. pyrenaica

While looking for the best place to post my hard-won chamois photos {a good telephoto lens is heavy!}, I discovered that, while Summitpost does have an album devoted to the Caprinae, the subfamily within Bovidae (cows, antelopes, etc: two-toed, four-stomached mammals) which includes chamois as well as steinbok and bighorn sheep, ther is no album specifically devoted to this icon of European mountains. So I decided to make one.

Chamois of the alps are Rupicapra rupricapra; the pyrenaean ones are Rupicapra pyrenaica. There are several subspecies consituting isolated populations in other ranges: the appenine population is usually considered a subspecies of pyrenaic chamois (i.e., Rupicapra pyrenaica ornata), and the others (in the Tatra, the Carpathians and other Balkan ranges, the Caucusus, Anatolia, and even a population (introduced) in New Zealand) are subspecies of R. rupicapra.

Chamois are nimble, goat-like animals at home on the steepest slopes. As can be shown by the photos here, they sometimes wander down to the forests, especially in winter, but they are primarily creatures of the alpine zone. They are not hard to find in the alpine zone if you are patient and quiet, but they have excellent hearing and smell and are likely to run out of sight if they sense a human presence. A suspicious animal will first raise its head and gaze fixedly toward a perceived threat. The slightest noise or movement will then result in an alarm: a sort of hop (which other chamois can presumably hear), followed by a gallop toward safety (either around the shoulder of the mountain, or onto some impossibly steep rocks) which the whole herd usually follows. Sometimes a fleeing chamois will give a strange, hawklike cry.

Chamois are easily distinguished from ibex or sheep by the dark markings on their face and by their small, delicate-looking horns. Adults have horns taller than the ears, with male horns a bit thicker and more strongly curved. Yearlings have horns about ear height, and babies have very short horns.

In many places chamois have no remaining natural predators (bears, wolves, lynx - one source lists foxes as a predator but I have trouble imagining a fox taking even an undefended baby), but they have long been hunted by man for meat, leather ("shammy" is synonymous with soft leather in English), and fur (including "gamsbart", a hat plume made from the tuft on the neck).


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