The Apennine Chamois


Name: Apennine chamois

Scientific name: Rupicapra pyrenaica ornata

Class: mammal

Distribution: mountainous areas of the central Apennines

Level of threat: limited total numbers, diminishing population sizes, low genetic variability, at risk health contacts.

Ecology: a herbivore mainly found in high altitude pastureland - more than 1,700 m. in summer, while in winter, December to June, they descend to steeply sloped forested areas (1,000-1,300 m.) with a southern exposure and, thus, less snow and a higher possibility for finding food. The females and the young live in herds while the males leave the herd at about 2 years of age, only returning during the mating period. The chamois usually inhabits inaccessible areas, especially very steep rocky walls, where they can take refuge from predatory attacks. When frightened the chamois emits a type of alarm whistle. The reproductive behaviour takes a heavy energy toll on the males, and given that, during this period, they have little time to feed, they arrive at mid-December having to face the winter with limited fat reserves. For this reason, the older animals, especially, die, not being in a condition to survive the harsh winters. As the first heavy snows fall, the mating period ends and the chamois descend to their wintering grounds. The females give birth from the first 10 days of May to the end of June, and in this period we see “nurseries” formed, where one or two females guard a group of young, while the other mothers have the opportunity to graze peacefully nearby.

Note: The Apennine chamois is one of the rarest fauna groups in Italy and, consequently, is included in the priority species list of Annex II and IV of the Habitat Directive 92/43/EC and in other European regulations. It is classified as “vulnerable” in the red list of mammals drawn up in 2008 by the IUCN and IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group (Shackleton et al.,1997). Moreover, it is “specifically protected” under Italian law (L.157/92). It should be noted that recent research has shown that there is a marked genetic difference between this species and the other 9 sub-species of chamois, so that there is now a proposal to rank the Apennine chamois at the level of Rupicapra ornata, thus, increasing its conservation importance.

Present total number: approx. 1,500

Main threats

Limited numbers and population sizes and low genetic variability

A reduction in total numbers with a consequent limited number in population sizes and periods of isolation are concrete threats to this sub-species' conservation. Its low genetic variability, together with its reduced total numbers, have made the Apennine chamois vulnerable to different factors that could result in its extinction, at a local level, rendering the conservation attempts already carried out, also thanks to the previous Life Natura project, futile.


Current decreases in and reduction of populations in the Abruzzo, Latium and Molise National Park

In the 1970s, the population of the Apennine chamois in the Abruzzo, Latium and Molise National Park was estimated to be 250-300, remaining more or less constant to the early '90s. From 1994, there was a new growth phase that, in 2005, resulted in a count of 650-700 animals. However, over the last 3 years, the data has shown a steady diminishing in the numbers of animals observed – 645 counted in 2005, 518 in 2009 – as well as showing a reduced number of young, especially under female care. The traditional area of Val di Rose fully reflects this situation, aggravated by the low survival rate during the first year of life of the young. As can be easily understood, if this situation is not tackled, it places at serious risk, not only the conservation of the population in the Abruzzo, Latium and Molise National Park in the long term, but also that of this sub-species.

Present nucleus number in the Sibillini less than the critical number - program to increase guranteeing long term survival

This threat can be overcome by looking at the experience acquired throught the activities in establishing new populations in the Majella and Gran Sasso parks. Observations have shown that the number of animals released to achieve a Minimum Viable Population (the critical number a population must reach to guarantee long term survival) results in a new colony being established, that is, 30 head with a sex ratio weighted on the female. The positive results attained from previous release programs indicate that the work should be pursued.

At risk health contacts

Domestic animals can be carriers of transmittable diseases, dangerous for the chamois and, thus, with serious repercussions, especially (but not only), on the nuclei during the colonization of new areas. Differently to livestock, these diseases, once transmitted, become very difficult to control in wild chamois populations. In the National Action Plan for Apennine chamois, this threat is considered to be at a high impact level, where the summer grazing of livestock (sheep, goats, cattle and horses) where establised herds of Apennine chamois are present, can lead to pathogenic agents contaminating the areale, that can be directly or indirectly transmitted. To this, we can add the low genetic variability of the sub-species resulting in very similar specimens, and therefore, making it impossible to come up with different responses for these diseases.