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The chamois

Rupicapra rupicapra

The chamois is one of those animals that, already with its robust and compact looks, reveals its natural, perfect adaptation to very steep, rugged and rocky terrain. Its proud bearing, the straight back and the long, strong legs give it an inborn elegance. Rapid in its movements, with a splendid blackish winter coat, the chamois resembles a real “devil” of the mountains.
Adult males weigh between 30kg and 45kg; their shoulder height is 75-87cm and their body length varies between 1.2m and 1.4m. The females are lighter and slimmer, weighing 25-35kg, and they have a shoulder height of 65-75cm and are 1.1m to 1.3m long. The tail is short (10-14cm) but noticeable, in both sexes.
During the summer months, chamois wear a lighter-coloured coat of varying chestnut-hazelnut tones, ranging from a very light beige to reddish, with a dark dorsal stripe that runs along the entire back. The legs are also dark, contrasting with the white-yellowish stomach.
The winter coat, consisting of long, dense and perfectly insulating fur, is of a more intense shade of colours: varying from grey-anthracite to dark brown, almost black. These colours favour the absorption of the sun’s warm rays that are so precious in this rigid Alpine climate. Adult males have a long mane of hair (beard), up to 30cm length, which extends all along their spinal column. Throat and face (which has a dark stripe on both sides) are whitish, making the identification of this fascinating hoofed animal unmistakable.
The chamois
 
The chamois

Behaviour

Chamois are definitely social animals: very numerous herds can often be observed, consisting of over a hundred individuals, but their composition varies, depending on many conditions, such as the area’s morphology, the season and food availability.
The most common herds are made up of females with their kids, and young individuals of both sexes. They are always guided by an expert female and they are open, in the sense that animals may join or leave them without any difficulty. Where chamois population densities are high, groups of young males, sub-adults or even young adults (up to six or seven years of age) may form.
As happens in many other species, mature chamois males also tend to lead a solitary life, and they approach female herds only during the period of love-making, between the end of October and mid-December.
During this time-period, the most vigorous males defend their own area of the territory against potential rivals, aiming to keep some females in this area that they will then try to “seduce” during very complex courting rituals. The challenges between males are very exciting and often give rise to long and breakneck chases, up and down the steepest slopes. The long and fast uphill sprints are possible due to the extraordinary evolutionary adaptation of this species: a chamois’s heart, for example, in proportion to its body weight, is twice as large as that of a human being! The incredible races across difficult terrain are also made possible by the particular form of the hooves. These are of almost triangular shape, with sharp edges to avoid slipping on the ice (like crampons), a soft cushion for holding onto the rocks (like rock-climbing shoes) and a piece of skin between the claws that opens up and prevents the animal from sinking into the deep snow (like snow-shoes).
During the course of the winter, large groupings of chamois may form, consisting of individuals of different sex and ages, concentrated in areas where food is most readily available.
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