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Updated on August 15, 2014

The Chamois

The Chamois, an antelope, is as large as a goat, with small upright horns hooked at the tip.

It is found in the mountain-ranges of Southern Europe and in Asia Minor. Owing to its wariness and activity it was attractive game and a challenge to hunters.

The species was introduced to New Zealand. They thrived to the point where it almost considered being a pest.

Photos by Alex Bruda and Paul Hermans

Wild Chamois in Slovakia

Rupicapra rupicapra

A species of antelope, and a native of Western Europe and Asia. It is not much larger than a goat, lives in mountainous regions, and possesses wonderful leaping power and is extremely agile, so that is very difficult to capture. Its flesh is much esteemed, and from its skin the beautiful chamois leather is made. The color of this leather is a yellowish beige.

Photo by Paul Hermans

Photo by Paul Hermans
Photo by Paul Hermans

Mountain Enemies

Potential enemies are any wolves or lynxes that penetrate these heights. The greater danger is to the kids, from foxes and eagles. Although chamois have long been hunted the effects have been less disastrous than with the ibex, largely because so many remain permanently in the forests.

A disease was noted among chamois in Switzerland in 1927, and it may be that this is one of those instances in which an animal population is kept in check by an endemic disease, so preventing them from increasing to such numbers as would damage their habitat. There is, however, one check on chamois increases that can be ruled out, if legend can be believed, and that is death from falling down a precipice. The legend accounts for the shape of the chamois' horns, that they act as shock-absorbers should the animal fall and land on its head.

This figures in a 12th century bestiary: "There is an animal called Ibex the Chamois, which has two horns. And such is the strength of these, that if it is hurled down from a high mountain peak to the very depths, its whole body will be preserved unhurt by these two."

I thought the Chamois was a cloth to polish a car?

Chamois leather were treated with lime and then soft-dressed with oil; vegetable or chemical tanning agents are not used. Nowadays the skins of sheep and goats are substituted, but yes, that is where the excellent car cleaning material originated from.

Only Broken Glass Refused

Goat-antelopes are members of the cattle family, and are intermediate between goats and antelopes. Chamois seem to have the digestive powers of a goat. They are grazers and browsers, taking grass and other sparse mountain herbage, as well as lichens.

They also browse the trees, including the conifers, with their indigestible pine needles. No doubt if ever picnic parties become fashionable at high altitudes the chamois could be relied upon to clear up the litter.

Do you use a chamois on your car?

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