The Chartreuse Chamois is seen as a subspecies of the Alpine Chamois. It has a very small and isolated distribution range in the Chartreuse massif at the western edge of the French Alps.

Names

English common names: Chartreuse Chamois [1], Carthusian Chamois – not common, but justified according to Carthusian Pink (Dianthus carthusianorum)

Dutch: Chartreusegems [Wikipedia]

French: Chamois Chartreuse [1, 5]

German: Chartreuse Gams [1], Chartreuse-Gämse [5], Kartäusergämse – not common, but justified according to Kartäusernelke (Dianthus carthusianorum) or Kartäuserkatze

Italian: Camoscio della Chartreuse [Wikipedia]

Spanish: Rebeco de la Cartuja [1, 5]

The name Chartreuse most likely derives from or grew in popularity with the Carthusian Order (french: L’Ordre des Chartreux). The order and Grande Chartreuse – the head monastery of the Carthusian order – were founded in 1084 by Bruno of Cologne. The monastery is located in the hard of the Chartreuse Mountains, near the commune of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse.

Monastery „Grande Chartreuse“: The name „Chartreuse“ most likely derives from the Carthusian Order. Photo: Bürglin

Taxonomy / similar subpecies

Rupicapra rupicapra cartusiana

Couturier, 1938 [1]

Looking at genetics: Pemperton et al. (1989) examined the distinctiveness of the Chartreuse Chamois from the Alpine Chamois in allelic variation across 10 different nuclear loci (a further 45 loci proved to be monomorphic). The Chartreuse Chamois was more distinct from the Alpine populations than they were from each other, although there were „no fixed differences“. [4] The genetic distances between the two phenotypes were found to be similar to the genetic distances between various Red Deer subspecies. [1] Unfortunately, when Pemperton et al. carried out their study, individuals from the Alpine population had already been introduced into the Massif de Chartreuse. [4]

Looking at physical characteristics: Groves and Grubb (2011) found: „The Chartreuse Chamois overlaps in all described character states with chamois from the Alps, even if they are somewhat different on average.“ Other authors claim to have found clear morphological differences: Some see the Chartreuse Chamois as „one of the stockiest Chamois subspecies“ [5] with „shorter limbs“ [1]. Horn circumferences are said to be „usually large“. [1] Unfortunately only few body measurements are available. Limb lengths are not provided at all by the authors listed below. The Chartreuse Chamois is also said to be „intermediate in characteristics between the Pyrenean and Alpine Chamois“ [5] (see below: colouration / pelage / neck).

In summary, one can say that the justification for a separation into a subspecies still remains doubtful. [1] Nevertheless in view of the clear geographic distribution range, the genetic differences and the low numbers, the classification into a separate phenotype seems justified.

Distribution

The Chartreuse Chamois is endemic to the Chartreuse Mountains in France, an isolated limestone massif at the western edge of the Alps between the cities of Chambéry and Grenoble. Eastwards and around the southern tip, the Chartreuse mountain system is isolated by the broad valley of the river Isère. In the north around Chambéry there is also a depression that connects the Isère with the Rhône valley. To the west the mountains level off to reach heights around 400 metres asl.

About 70 percent of the massif is covered by mixed conifer and decidious forests. [1] A smaller fraction of the area lies within the alpine zone. The highest mountain is the Chamechaude (2082 m asl).

General description

Couturier (1938) proposed the Chartreuse Chamois on phenotype characteristics. He found the individuals he saw to be rather stocky with an average body mass of around 30 kg. Females weigh 22 kg. Couturier further found shorter limbs to give the animal its stocky appearance. For comparison: Alpine Chamois (R. r. rupicapra) attain a body mass of approximately 45 kg. Females – being on average 30 percent smaller [1] – attain 31,5 kg.  To get to the heart of this description: Chartreuse Chamois are on average smaller than Alpine Chamois from other areas. Naturally smaller bodies stand on shorter limbs.

The label „stocky“ can maybe just be ascribed to the fact that Chartreuse Chamois are smaller than other Alpine Chamois. Photo: Bürglin

length / head-body: 115-125 cm [5]

shoulder height: 75-90 cm [1, 5]

weight: 30 kg – males, 22 kg – females [1, 5]

horn length: 23-27 cm [5]; mean 21,8 cm; maximum 27,4 cm [1]

tail length: 3-4 cm [5]

karyotype: 2n = 58 [1]

A young male approaching a female. Photo: Sophie Perroy

Colouration / pelage

(in general like other Alpine Chamois)

overall body colour in winter: almost black [1]; black facial stripe, sides of neck, dorsal stripe, tail, shoulder, lower flanks and limbs are darker than rest of body

overall body colour in summer: pale brown [1]

Chartreuse Chamois in May. Photo: Bürglin

Chartreuse Chamois at the end of October. Photo: Sophie Perroy

underparts: pale [5]

legs: usually darker [5] than body

head: black and white facial mask.

Like in other Alpine Chamois, specimens with reddish pelage do also occur in Chartreuse Chamois. Photo: Bürglin

neck: in winter sides of neck are darker than other parts of body. A cream coloured neck patch [1] – that may indicate the relationship to the Pyrenean Chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica) – is most likely best developed in mature males during the rutting season in November and December. It could not be detected i­n seven individuals examined in spring and two in summer.

In these two females a small cream coloured neck patch is visible on the back side of the neck, just below the ear. Photo: Sophie Perroy

In this specimen from May a neck patch is not visible. Photo: Bürglin 

Horns

According to Couturier’s (1938) samples, the mean length of Chartreuse Chamois horns is around 21,8 cm, with maximums of 27,4 cm; mean height of 15,2 cm with maximum 19,5 cm and a mean span of 9,3 cm, maximum of 23,1 cm. [1] Again, these measurements are lower compared to those of other Alpine Chamois (R. r. rupicapra).

As in other Alpine Chamois, males of Chartreuse Chamois have stronger hooked horns than females. Photo: Bürglin

The Office National de la Chasse et de Faune Sauvage (ONCF) states that Chartreuse Chamois show horns with large circumferences. [1] The horn measurements of Groves and Grubb (2011) of Chartreuse and other Alpine Chamois do not support these findings.

Chartreuse Chamois are said to have stronger horn bases. From the measurements available this can maybe only be said in relation to the smaller body size. Photo: Bürglin

Table 1: Horn measurements of Chartreuse and other Alpine Chamois

R. r. cartusiana (males) horn l horn br tips horn base ap horn base diam
mean 236,5 90,13 27,87 26,00
N 8 8 8 8
Std dev 16,000 39,219 2,100 1,195
min 220 56 25 24
max 260 155 31 28

 

R. r. rupicapra (males) horn l horn br tips horn base ap horn base diam
mean 237,29 96,14 29,36 26,64
N 14 14 14 14
Std dev 10,186 16,129 1,906 1,737
min 218 75 26 24
max 259 135 33 30

Habitat

Damm and Franco (2014) state that Chartreuse Chamois occupy mostly forests and usually spend the summers at low altitude in thickets of large coniferous forests and wooded canyons [1]. If this description of habitat selection and timing is accurate, than Chartreuse Chamois would be very different from other Alpine Chamois, which usually stay at alpine meadows during the warm season and descent to lower altitudes in winter.

Chartreuse Chamois habitat in spring at Chamechaude at around 1700 m asl. Photo taken from Le Charmant Som by the author

The pass Col de Porte in the left lower corner; Chamois habitat at Charmant Som (1867 m asl), upper right corner. Photo: Bürglin

During a field trip for the drawing up of this chapter on May 20th and May 21st 2018 five different groups of chamois with of a total of 11 animals were observed at Le Chamechaude (2082 m asl) and Le Charmant Som (1867 m asl). All of them were encountered in subalpine coniferous forests or above forest line respectively.

Chartreuse Chamois grazing. Photo: Bürglin

A Chartreuse Chamois munching forbs in spring. Photo: Bürglin

Chartreuse Chamois pellets. Ring diameter: 2 cm. Photo: Bürglin

Predators

Lynx (Lynx lynx) is a common predator of chamois. It is present in the area. [6] Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are known to prey on chamois. The species was confirmed during a trip to the area in May 2018.

Zwo Golden Eagles: potential predators of Chamois kids

Conservation Status / threats

The IUCN Red List classifies the Chartreuse Chamois as „vulnerable“. [2]

 Many factors threaten this subspecies, and the most important include: food and space competition with domestic livestock, Red Deer and introduced Mouflon; hybridization with introduced Alpine chamois; over-harvesting and poaching; forestry; summer tourism and winter cross-country skiers. [2]

Two Mouflons, one chamois: the two species are said to compete. Photo: Bürglin

Grenoble seen from chamois habitat at Chamechaude

The subspecies was formerly restricted to a 60 km² area of state forest. Its population numbers and its spatial distribution were even more reduced between 1960 and 1970. The total population was estimated at 300 to 400 individuals in the 1970s and reached a low of 157 individuals in 1985, within a zone of around 6.000 ha (Roucher 1999). [1]

Restoration measures for the Chartreuse Chamois were started after 22 local hunting societies consented to a comprehensive management plan for the entire population. All hunting was stopped until 1990, when an acceptable number of chamois and an adequate population structure, allowing a sustainable harvest, had been reached. Harvesting started in fall 1990 at a 2 percent harvest rate, increasing to 4 percent in 1997 (Roucher 1999). Under intensive conservation management, the population has since increased to about 2.000 individuals (Lovari 2006). [1]

Chartreuse Chamois have recovered since the 1970ies. Photo: Bürglin

 Successful translocation within the original range to the eastern side of the Chartreuse area was conducted between 1990 and 1992. The population is probably still susceptible to random demographic or environmental events (Shackleton 1997; Lovari 2006). [1]

 Hybridization with Alpine Chamois: Chartreuse Chamois had been extirpated in the northern end of the mountain massif. Instead of moving a few native Chartreuse Chamois from the core of the massif, the administrative authorities chose to introduce Alpine Chamois from other areas in 1974. These Alpine Chamois multiplied quickly despite high hunting quotas. Therefore there is a possibility that Alpine Chamois may hybridize with Chartreuse Chamois and threaten the genetic purity of the Chartreuse Chamois (Roucher 1999). [1]

Translocation to the Vosges Mountains: In 1956 Chartreuse Chamois were used for introductions into the Vosges Mountains, further north, close to the German border. There they hybridized with introduced Alpine Chamois. [1]

Trophy hunting

A number of Chartreuse Chamois is legally harvested every year, mainly by members of the local hunting societies. Detailed studies and data on harvested Chartreuse Chamois are not available. Figures for an annual harvest published in 2006 list 32 individuals being taken. [1]

Ecotourism

Trip reports of mammal watchers that mention Chartreuse Chamois are hardly available. But visitors of the area do mention encounters with chamois in blogs. The two mountains Le Chamechaude and Charmant Som in the south of the Chartreuse massif are very popular with hikers (Grenoble – 161.000 inhabitants – is situated only 20 km to the south).

Photo: Bürglin

Literature Cited

[1] Damm, Gerhard R. and Franco, Nicolás, 2014: The CIC Caprinae Atlas of the World – CIC International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, Budakeszi, Hungary in cooperation with Rowland Ward Publications RSA (Pty) Ltd., Johannesburg, South Africa.

[2] Aulagnier, S., Giannatos, G. & Herrero, J. 2008. Rupicapra rupicapra. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T39255A10179647. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T39255A10179647.en. Downloaded on 06 June 2018.

[3] Wilson, D.E. and Mittermeier, R.A. [eds], 2011: Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Vol. 2. Hoofed Mammals. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

[4] Groves, Colin and Grubb, Peter, 2011: Ungulate Taxonomy. The John Hopkins University Press.

[5] Castelló, José R., 2016: Bovids of the World – Antelopes, Gazelles, Cattle, Goats, Sheep, and Relatives. Princton University Press.

[6] http://www.kora.ch/fileadmin/file_sharing/5_Bibliothek/52_KORA_Publikationen/520_KORA_Berichte/KORA_Report_70_E_2016_The_recovery_of_wolf_and_lynx_in_the_Alps.pdf