By Pan Parks Foundation
(Rupicapra rupicapra) is a European goat-antelope species that inhabits steep, rocky mountainsides, alpine forests and grassy slopes above the tree line. Chamois are brave animals with special skills developed to ensure their survival in very remote wilderness areas and in highly challenging mountain conditions such as snow blizzards, low temperatures and limited food resources. Native populations develop in an island-like fashion in the Carpathian Mountains, the Alps, the Central Italian Apennines, the Pyrenees, the Balkan Mountains, certain parts of Turkey, and the Caucasus. Due to the isolation and inaccessibility of these areas, most of these mountains are occupied by two species and several subspecies specific to each range. Within the EU, the chamois species is strictly protected under the European Habitats Directive.
Species history in Europe
The chamois was traditionally an important game animal for people living in the mountains: It was hunted for food, as well as for its skin and horns, the latter which was used to prepare certain medicines. Human pressure on mountain areas started to increase in the 17th and 18th centuries, and logging and grazing resulted in continued expansion of suitable habitats for chamois. Deforestation not only created more favourable food conditions for the species, but also led to the extinction of big carnivores, which had greatly affected their numbers. These artificially created conditions significantly increased population density, but this in turn caused a gradual worsening in the health condition of the Alpine chamois, for example. Viral infections and other diseases typical of the chamois in the Alps made this subspecies subject to a dramatic change of population dynamics. In contrast, subspecies in other regions such as the Carpathians, Balkan and Dinaric mountains, where native populations of carnivores survived, are much healthier and less vulnerable to infections, allowing for a more balanced population dynamics in those areas.
A wilderness species
In a heavily exploited continent like Europe, large and properly managed high-mountain wilderness areas are critical to the chamois' survival. Enclosing the animal or keeping it in captivity is difficult and often results in death. The key, then, to the future of the species lies is in situ management - i.e. leaving them wild in their natural environment. According to data from the Large Herbivore Foundation (LHF), the largest non-fragmented area for chamois is to be found in the Alps, with a population of over 80,000 animals in Swiss territories, and about 20,000 in Germany. More....