The chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) is a species of goat-antelope native to mountains in Europe. It has also been introduced to the South Island of New Zealand. Some subspecies of chamois are strictly protected in the EU under the European Habitats Directive.
The chamois is a very small species of goat-antelope. Both males and females have short, straightish horns which are hooked backward near the tip, the horn of the male being thicker. In summer, the fur of these animals has a rich brown color which turns to a light grey in winter. Distinct characteristics are white contrasting marks on the sides of the head with pronounced black stripes below the eyes, a white rump, and a black stripe along the back.
Chamois are native to mountains in Europe, from west to east, including the Cantabrian mountains, the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Apennines, the Dinarides, the Tatra and the Carpathian Mountains, the Balkan Mountains, the Rila - Rhodope massif, Pindus, the northeastern mountains of Turkey, and the Caucasus. They live at moderately high altitudes and are adapted to living in precipitous, rugged, rocky terrain. In Europe, chamois spend their summers above the tree line in meadows. When winter rolls around, they go to lower elevations, to live in forests, mainly in areas dominated by pines.
Chamois are social animals. Females and their young live in herds of up to 15 to 30 individuals, however, adult males tend to live solitarily for most of the year. Chamois are primarily diurnal in activity; they often rest around mid-day and may actively forage during moonlit nights. When they sense danger, chamois make a whistling sound and stamp with their foot. They usually use speed and stealthy evasion to escape predators and can run at 50 kilometers per hour (31 mph) and can jump 2 m (6.6 ft) vertically into the air or over a distance of 6 m (20 ft).
Chamois are herbivores. They eat various types of vegetation, including highland grasses and herbs during the summer and conifers, barks, and needles from trees in winter.
Chamois are polygynous breeders. During the rut (late November/early December in Europe, May in New Zealand), males engage in fierce battles for the attention of unmated females. After the gestation period of 170 days, the female gives birth to a single kid, usually in May or early June; on rare occasions, however, twins may be born. If a mother is killed, other females in the herd may try to raise the young. The kid is weaned at 6 months of age and is fully grown by one year of age. Young chamois generally do not reach reproductive maturity until they are 3 to 4 years old, although some females may mate as early as 2 years old. When reproductively mature, young males are forced out of their mother's herds by dominant males (who sometimes kill them), and then wander somewhat nomadically until they can establish themselves as mature breeding specimens at 8 to 9 years of age.
The main threats to these animals include poaching and overhunting, human disturbance, and competition with livestock for food and space. Chamois suffer from habitat loss in some areas of their range and are vulnerable to hybridization with introduced subspecies from other regions.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the chamois is 440,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Due to their grazing habits, chamois hugely impact the plant communities in their ecosystem. They are also an important food source for local predators such as Eurasian lynxes, Persian leopards, and Gray wolves.