Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra

Chamois

KEY CLUES

Distinctive features: Light fawn colour in summer, dark brown/black in winter. Dark stripe from nose around the eyes to the horns; another stripe from nape of neck along the spine to the tail. Slender black horns, 170-280 mm, curving backwards to form sharp hooks.

Size: Males 25–60 kg, females 19-35 kg; similar in size to a goat but with longer legs, neck and larger hooves.

Droppings: approximately 20-25 mm long, oblong, black, shiny when fresh, found in pellet groups.

Footprints: cloven hooves, approximately 25 × 70 mm, with sharply pointed toes.

Kill sign: Not applicable (herbivore)

Vegetation damage: Browsers of alpine grasslands and herbfields.

Sound: High pitched whistle – alarm signal.

Distribution: Widespread throughout the South Island high country. Absent from parts of Fiordland.

WHY ARE CHAMOIS PESTS?

Ecological impacts

Chamois are herbivores with the potential to affect vegetation through their browsing and grazing. Chamois probably impact alpine grasslands, alpine mire communities and alpine herb fields, where they occur most widely, but actual damage is unknown, even where tehy occur at high densities. Where they occur in native forest, they may suppress the regeneration of browse-intolerant species but often these impacts are difficult to distinguish from those of tahr or red deer when these species are also present.

Chamois in Westland, compared to those on the eastern Southern Alps, have been shown to have higher concentrations of woody species in their diet and it is thought that they may potnetially impact kamahi in hte western alps when at high densities. Chamois can also cause damage by trampling areas of vegetation and compactable soils, especially soft mire wetland soils.

Other impacts

None known.

Read more about chamois


Droppings

Separate

Chamois pellets are about 20-25 mm long, oblong shaped and black. Fresh droppings are shiny. Droppings are usually found singly or in loose groups and rarely as clumped droppings. Large amounts of droppings are sometimes found in latrine areas, near where animals have been sheltering (often under bluffs or in patches of subalpine scrub).

Can be confused with:

In alpine areas, chamois droppings may be confused with those of goats, deer and hares. Feral goat droppings are of a similar size to those of chamois and therefore more easily confused. Chamois droppings will be more oblong shaped and usually smaller and narrower than red deer pellets, although there is substantial overlap in size.

Chamois and hare droppingsHare droppings are more rounded than chamois droppings and look more fibrous than either chamois or deer droppings.

Clumped

It is uncommon for chamois droppings to be clumped but it does happen occasionally. Pellets within a clump are about 20-25 mm long. They are oblong shaped and black in colour. Fresh droppings are shiny.

Can be confused with:

Clumped chamois droppings could be confused with clumped red deer or feral goat droppings.

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Footprints and Tracks

Hooves

Chamois have a cloven hoof with pointed toes; the imprint of each cleave measuring about 25 mm wide × 70 mm long. The imprint of sharply pointed toes are often visible in their tracks. The toe prints may splay quite widely if the chamois was running downhill. Footprints are commonly be found in soil, streambed sand or snow. Chamois hooves are specially designed for surefootedness, with a combination of hard and soft surfaces to give excellent grip; the outer edge comprises a narrow rim of hard horn-like keratin. Sometimes the indentations made by this narrow outer edge of the hoof are clearly distinguishable in foot prints

Can be confused with:

Chamois tracks could be confused with those of red deer, tahr, sheep and feral goat where the distributions of one or more of these species overlaps with chamois. In suitable substrates, chamois tracks may be distinguished by the deeper indentation made by the narrow outer margins of the hoof.

Trails and Runs

Chamois can make extensive and well formed tracks in screes, snow and through subalpine shrubland. Horizontal trails across alpine faces may be obvious for several hundred metres and are a means of traversing rugged terrain. Chamois trails are also commonly found ascending and descending ridges and spurs.

Can be confused with:

Chamois trails could be confused with trails made by red deer but it is uncommon for red deer to create well formed trails in high alpine areas. Goats can also occasionally leave trails in alpine areas. At a distance, trails in snow could be confused with those made by people but hoof prints will confirm the culprit.

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Vegetation Damage

Understorey (less than 3m)

Chamois usually occur in low densities, thus feeding sign is more likely to be caused by other browsers. Chamois feeding sign can include large clumps of grass or tussocks pulled from the ground or grazed, or shrubs that have been browsed. Chamois eat lichens, grasses, herbs and woody plants. Signs of their feeding can be found in alpine and subalpine grasslands, herb fields, shrublands and mire (swamp) communities where chamois commonly occur. In alpine grassland they favour tussocks, grasses and alpine herb species with fleshy leaves such as the Mt Cook buttercup. Chamois are also found in lower altitude forests, especially on the West Coast, where they will browse on understorey vegetation, finding broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis) and kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa) particularly palatable.

Can be confused with:

It is difficult to distinguish chamois damage from that of other ungulates (hoofed animals) tahr, deer species, sheep, cows and goats.

Plant leaves

There is very little information available about specific characteristics that help identify chamois leaf browse. It is likely to look similar to that of deer and other ungulates (hoofed mammals). In the alpine and subalpine zones chamois seem to prefer native tussocks, grasses and herbs with fleshy leaves. Damage to herbaceous species may show several leaves eaten back to the stem and other leaves bitten in half. Alpine grasses may be ripped and pulled, with the tillers (a tuft of grass leaves or stems) sometimes eaten back to the base of the tussock. Native forest species particularly palatable to chamois include broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis) and kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa).  Chamois seem to have a greater preference for woody vegetation than tahr.

Can be confused with:

Where chamois distribution overlaps with that of tahr, red deer, sheep, cows, or feral goats, their browse sign will be difficult to tell apart from these species.

Fruits and Flowers

Chamois eat a lot of alpine grasses and alpine herbs including flowering and seeding plants. There is little information available on specific characteristics that would help distinguish signs of their fruit and flower browsing from that of other browsing species.

Can be confused with:

Where chamois distribution overlaps that of red deer, tahr, feral goats, or domestic or feral sheep, it will be difficult to differentiate damage to fruit and flowers caused by each species. Hares also feed on alpine grasses and herbs and where the two species overlap, it will also be difficult to differentiate between these species.

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Kill Sign

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Other Clues

Sound

Chamois often use a high pitched whistle as an alarm call and may stamp their feet.

Can be confused with:

Himalayan tahr also use a high-pitched whistle as an alarm call. Chamois alarm whistles may be mistaken for a human alert whistle. Deer, goats or sheep will also stamp a foot when alarmed or threatened.

Body covering

You may find tufts of chamois fur in spring when chamois shed their winter coat. The hair is soft and up to 50 mm in length, the hair shafts straight, and only the fine fur fibres are moderately curled. The underfur layer is not readily distinguished. Male chamois also have long (100-150 mm) stiff hairs along the middle of the back, the tips of which have a silver sheen.

In summer, chamois fur is short and mostly fawn, with a dark brown band extending from the nose, over the eyes to the base of the horns (almost mask-like in appearance). A dark stripe also extends along the nape of the neck, while the throat and lower jaw are white. In winter, chamois fur is thicker and a darker brown, almost black. Males often have a prominent mane and dorsal stripe.

Chamois horns are distinctive. They are black and arise directly from the top of the head for 50-80 mm, curving backwards to form hooks. Male horns are about 170–280 mm long; female horns often shorter at around 184-215 mm long.

Can be confused with:

If an animal is not clearly visible, a chamois could possibly be confused with tahr or goats. Tahr have much thicker longer hair, and look more shaggy than chamois. Bull tahr have a mane during summer and both male and female tahr lack the dark face patterning that chamois has. Compared to chamois, goats have shorter legs, hold their necks more horizontal, and have more rounded ears. Goats do not have the chamois’ dark contrasting stripes on the face and neck and goat’s horns generally curve more sideways away from head rather than backwards. The black, slender horns of chamois are unlikely to be confused with other species.

Distribution

Chamois are the second-most widespread wild ungulate in the South Island after red deer. They are present throughout the Southern Alps, from north of Fiordland National Park to the Inland Kaikoura Range. Although, they are most common in the alpine and subalpine zones, they can occur at lower elevations, particularly in native forest in South Westland.

Can be confused with:

Chamois could be confused with goats or tahr, where their distributions overlap.

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MORE ABOUT CHAMOIS

Origin

Various species of chamois occur naturally from the Pyrenees, through the mountains of southern and central Europe, to Turkey and the Caucasus. The alpine chamois, which were introduced into New Zealand, were a gift to the New Zealand government from the Emperor Franz Josef II of Austria in 1907 and 1914. At the time, chamois were scarce in the European Alps and there was some difficultly in catching sufficient individuals to establish a breeding population in New Zealand.

Description

Chamois, along with sheep and goats, are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae of the family Bovidae (cloven-hoofed ruminant mammals). The black, backward-curving horns are a distinguishing feature. In summer, chamois fur is short and mostly fawn, with a dark brown band extending from the nose, over the eyes to the base of the horns (almost mask-like in appearance). A dark stripe also extends along the nape of the neck, while the throat and lower jaw are white. In winter, chamois fur is thicker and a darker brown, almost black. Males often have a prominent mane and dorsal stripe and a darker, urine-stained pizzle area; otherwise males and females look rather similar.

Size and weight

Adult chamois are about 1.2 m long. Males have a shoulder height of 650-900 mm and weigh 25-45 kg, while females are on average slightly shorter and lighter, with a shoulder height of 600-800 mm and 19-35 kg weight.

Behaviour

Chamois are mostly active during the day. In winter they feed around mid-morning but during spring and summer they feed more intensively around dawn and dusk. Males are very intolerant of each other during the breeding season (May-July) and vigorous chases may occur, sometimes descending 100-200 m altitude in minutes. Chamois are extremely agile in steep terrain and can use speed and stealthy evasion to escape predators, sometimes running at speeds of 50 km per hour and jumping 2 m vertically over a distance of 6 m. They often swim across rivers and may occasionally swim across lakes.

Chamois have an excellent sense of smell and eyesight and, like most Caprinae (goat-like species), have a habit of looking downhill for danger. They often use lookout points such as spurs or small outcrops where they have expansive views to watch for danger. When alarmed, these animals often give a high-pitched alarm call before fleeing to the most inaccessible places, often making prodigious leaps.

Male chamois are called bucks, females are called does, and their young are called kids. Gestation takes about 170 days and kids are born between November and February in a sheltered location. Females usually bear only one kid but twins and triplets occasionally occur. Kids are able to follow their mother almost immediately after birth and they rapidly improve their leaping ability within the first few days of life. They are weaned after two to three months. If a mother of a weaned kid is killed, then the orphaned kid will likely be accepted into a female/young group and benefit from the knowledge of mature females, increasing the kid’s chance of survival. Young males stay with the mother's group until they are two to three years old and then live nomadically until they establish and defend a territory. Sexual maturity is reached at the age of 2.5 years in females and 3.5 to 4 years in males, but males may not successfully breed unless they have established a territory.

Diet

In New Zealand, chamois eat a lot of alpine grasses and tussocks (e.g. Poa/Rytidosperma spp., Agrostis spp., and Chionochloa spp.) and alpine herbs (e.g. Ranunculus lyallii, Anisotome haastii, and Celmisia spp.). Grasses form a larger component of their diet on the eastern side of the Southern Alps than in the west but woody plants are important for all chamois populations in winter when alpine grasslands are covered in snow. Intensive grazing on species such as tall snow tussock can kill entire plants. Chamois also prefer native brooms (Carmichaelia spp.), and herbs such as the Mount Cook buttercup (Ranunculus lyallii).

Habitat

Chamois are found in a wide range of alpine (above treeline) and subalpine habitats including grasslands, scrub, bluffs, ridges, spurs, slips and rocky areas but also occur in forests. They are particularly common within about 300 m of the treeline. In eastern beech forests, they will also inhabit areas just below the treeline, and in the west they can inhabit rata/kamahi forest.

Other

Chamois have some economic value. Helicopter hunting operators shoot and sell chamois in commercial markets, as the meat is considered good eating. Chamois are also sought after in the trophy hunting tourism industry. Chamois leather (pronounced ‘shammy’) was once used as a ‘cloth’  for cleaning glass and polishing automobiles. A tuft of chamois winter back hair is used to make the ‘gamsbart’ decoration on Tyrolean hats.

How to get rid of it

The most effective method for controlling chamois is shooting, particularly aerially from a helicopter. Contact your local DOC or Regional Council office for advice (link to Next Steps).


FIND MORE INFORMATION IN:

Department of Conservation. Chamois. Retrieved (2017) from http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/things-to-do/hunting/what-to-hunt/chamois/

Forsyth, D.M. (2005). Chamois. In (CM. King Ed). New Zealand Handbook of Mammals, Second Edition. pp. 351-361.Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Yockney I.J., Hickling G.J. (2000). Distribution and diet of chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) in Westland forests, South Island, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 24: 31-38.