The chamois is a species of mammal that lives in the Alps. The hunter calls them “chamois”. Both males and females of the chamois have horns that they never lose in their lives. The males have a tuft of hair on their backs, which is particularly noticeable in their winter fur. The “Gamsbart” is also made of this hair. But this is not a real beard, but a hat decoration for men in Austria and in the state of Bavaria.
A chamois is a little over a meter long from the snout to the buttocks. There is also a short tail. Females reach up to forty kilograms, males up to fifty. The horns are straight below and curved backward above.
The legs are long and strong. Chamois can spread their hooves to get a better grip on the rocks. Fur and color change with the seasons: in summer the fur is reddish-brown. In winter it is denser and dark brown, almost black.
The chamois settled in the Alps. There are most chamois in Styria, a federal state of Austria. They can also be found in parts of Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Balkans. The chamois like steep and rocky areas, but not forests. They like to live high up, between 1500 and 2500 meters above sea level. They have big hearts that can pump enough oxygen through the body even in thin air. Their blood is also particularly well adapted to thin air.
How do chamois live?
Chamois are vegetarians. They eat grass and herbs but also leaves from bushes such as alpine roses. In winter, mosses and lichens are also present. They like to nibble off the shoot tips of the pine trees. But the foresters are not enthusiastic about that. Chamois are ruminants. So they lie down after eating, regurgitate the food up from the forestomach, chew it properly, and finally swallow it down into the stomach.
The females are called goats. They live in a herd with their young. A herd consists of up to thirty animals and sticks together strongly in summer. In winter it’s a little more relaxed. Adult males live on their own. They are called bucks. In the fall, every buck tries to become the leader of a herd. If several males want a herd to themselves, they will fight each other. Only the strongest wins.
Mating occurs in November. The male mates with each female. The gestation period is a good six months. Young chamois are mostly only children. Only rarely are there twins or even triplets. They drink milk from their mother for three months. The young animal is a “fawn” or a “gamskitz”.
The young goats can have their own young after a good two years. Goats live for about twenty years. Bucks have to be content with about 15 years.
Chamois have to watch out for bears, wolves, and lynxes because they are on their menu. The golden eagle occasionally preys on a fawn. Falling rocks or avalanches sometimes kill chamois. In harsh winters, young, old, or weak chamois often die of hunger. There are also dangerous diseases such as chamois blindness that lead to death.
Hunting is hardly a threat to the chamois. They can climb much better than the hunters and usually outrun them. In addition, the hunters agree among themselves on how many animals they are allowed to kill so that the stocks always remain about the same. Only in Switzerland have they been hunted too heavily in recent years. On the other hand, those responsible for tourism resisted. Many vacationers also want to see the corresponding animals in the mountains. They belong to the Alps.
There are six species that together make up the chamois genus. In addition to the chamois or alpine chamois, the Pyrenean chamois is known for the border area of Spain and France. The other four species are also named after their distribution areas. Their current areas are marked in red on the map. In the gray areas, they lived until the Stone Age.
Chamois are related to goats and sheep. They belong to the bovids, along with many other animal species. But they have nothing to do with the deer, because they don’t have horns, but antlers.