Coping Strategies of Ibex, Chamois and Deer

Coping Strategies of Ibex, Chamois and Deer

Hoofed animals in the Alps, such as alpine ibex (Capra ibex) and red deer (Cervus elaphus), have long stick-like legs which make it difficult for them to move around in deep snow. As soon as they sink into the snowpack it is extremely hard work for them to move around and forage. The chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) however, has a special adaption in its hooves to make it easier to move around in snow. Learn below on the coping strategies of Ibex, Chamois and Deer and how they get by in the winter time. 

A chamois ‘hoof

A chamois hoof consists of two parts: ‘two fingers’ which are connected by a membrane. Thanks to this membrane, the surface of the hooves is enlarged, making them better adapted for moving around in snowy conditions. Red deer and alpine ibex don’t have this adaptation and so really struggle in deep snow.

Protection in the forest

Chamois normally live above the tree line, but in winter they seek the protection of the forest against cold gusts of wind. Here they also find food such as pine needles, lichen and dried leaves. When weather conditions are favourable, their well-adapted hooves also allow them to forage outside of forest cover.

Human help

Red deer spend all winter in a small territory in the woods. This way deer save energy while searching for dried plant materials, such as leaves, lichen and tree bark. Because these foods are relatively poor in nutrients, red deer can only survive winter because of their reserves. When winters get really snowy and it’s practically impossible for the deer to move around, humans often help out by placing hay feeders in the forest. But even with a helping hand, the battle with winter can really take it’s toll on deer populations.

Darker fur

Rather stay away from the forest, Alpine Ibex prefer to spend the winter months high up in the mountains. They avoid colder north slopes and seek warmth on sunnier southern facing mountain sides. To warm up faster when the sun is out, the winter coat of an ibex is not only thicker and longer, but also darker. After all, a darker winter coat is better at capturing the sun’s rays. Red deer fur also turns darker in winter and a chamois’ coat changes from beige in summer to dark brown in winter.

Other articles in this series:

This is the last blog of a series in which I discuss some of the extraordinary strategies and adaptations of wildlife coping with winter in the Alps:

Simone van Velzen

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