An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Artiodactyla

 
Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Bovidae
          Subfamily: Caprinae
            Genus: Capra

Capra caucasica

      West Caucasian tur, Kuban tur

Taxonomy

Capra caucasica [Güldenstaedt and Pallas, 1783].  
Citation: Acta Acad. Sci. Petropoli, for 1779, 2:273 [1783].
Type locality: Russia, Caucasus Mtns, between Malka and Baksan Rivers, east of Mt. Elbrus.
The taxonomic record (above) is from Wilson and Reeder (1993).  The west Caucasian tur is a member of the Capra ibex complex, a grouping of several wild goat populations whose taxonomic distinctiveness is frequently debated (involving C. caucasicaC. ibex, C. nubiana, C. sibirica, and C. walie, and occasionally C. cylindricornis).  C. caucasica is thus sometimes ascribed subspecific status as C. ibex caucasica (see Hess, 1990).  An additional debate focuses on the scientific name C. caucasica; the description of the type specimen has several characteristics of the east Caucasian tur, leading some authorities to use caucasica as a prior name for C. cylindricornis (none of these specimens were preserved, preventing any new analysis).  If this is the case, the west Caucasian tur should be referred to as C. severtzovi (sometimes spelled severtzowi) (see Lydekker, 1913; Wilson and Reeder, 1993).  However, Heptner et al. (1989) point out that the type locality for C. caucasica is solely in the range of the west Caucasian tur; no east Caucasian tur or hybrids have been detected in the region.  Although hybridization occurs in the zone of overlap between the two Caucasian turs (different individuals have horns characteristic of Kuban tur, Daghestan tur, and of a morphological intermediate), there is no true hybrid population (Heptner et al., 1989).  There are two described subspecies of Kuban tur, the "mid-Caucasian tur" C. caucasica caucasica and the "west Caucasian tur" C. c. dinniki or C. c. severtzovi, although the validity of these names is questionable (Heptner et al., 1989).  Invalid synonyms for Capra caucasica include dinniki, raddei, and severtzovi (Wilson and Reeder, 1993)

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

The west Caucasian tur is a large, heavy-set goat, with measurements quite similar to the Siberian ibex, C. sibirica (Lydekker, 1913; Heptner et al., 1989).  Males are larger than females in terms of size and weight, and are easily distinguishable in the field by their larger horns (Heptner et al., 1989).

Reported measurements for west Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica)

Source                  Adult Weight   Head & Body Length    Shoulder Height      Tail Length  
Heptner et al., 1989

65-80 kg, up to 100 kg
50-60 kg

150-165 cm
120-140 cm

95-109 cm
78-90 cm

10-14 cm

Hess, 1990

65-80 kg
50-60 kg

150-165 cm
120-140 cm

95-109 cm
78-90 cm

10-14 cm

Lydekker, 1913

-

-

97-109 cm

-

The summer coat of the west Caucasian tur varies from rusty grey to rufous-brown, while in winter the coat dulls to a grayish-brown [in older animals this may be much lighter] (Lydekker, 1913; Heptner et al., 1989).  The underparts are generally the same color as the rest of the body in the summer coat, lightening to a yellowish-grey or dirty white in winter, especially in females (see Lydekker, 1913; Heptner et al., 1989).  There is no distinct dark dorsal stripe as in some other ibex species (Lydekker, 1913).  The chest is a dark reddish-brown (Lydekker, 1913).  The moult of the winter coat begins in March and extends to mid-June (Heptner et al., 1989).  The guard hairs and underfur of the coat begin to grow longer during September and the full winter pelage is fully grown in by the end of October (Heptner et al., 1989).

The body is massive with a relatively long, deep trunk; the legs are short but strong (Heptner et al., 1989).  The front surfaces of the legs are a deep brown color, becoming darker and more intense towards the hooves (Lydekker, 1913; Heptner et al., 1989).  Lydekker (1913) reports that a white spot may be present above each hoof.  The short tail is covered with dark hairs (Heptner et al., 1989).

The face of males tend to be darker and browner than the body, especially on the forehead (Lydekker, 1913; Heptner et al., 1989).  Dense, long, curly hair grows on the foreheads of males, especially in winter, and forms distinctive whorls (Lydekker, 1913; Heptner et al., 1989).  Another whorl often occurs on the nose (Lydekker, 1913).  Males, and occasionally females, grow a beard of moderate length on the chin (Lydekker, 1913).  In the summer, the beard is short and dark brown, becoming longer and fuller in winter (Heptner et al., 1989).

Both sexes of C. caucasica bear horns, although there is massive dimorphism between males and females (Heptner et al., 1989).  The horns of males are relatively short when compared to other ibex, but are the thickest of the genus Capra (Heptner et al., 1989).  They are bent like a scimitar in a single plane, and diverge in a wide "V" laterally from their base (Heptner et al., 1989).  The front surfaces of the horns are ridged strongly, but do not have the large knots of other ibex (Lydekker, 1913; Heptner et al., 1989).  In cross-section, the horns of males are in the form of rounded triangles (Heptner et al., 1989).  The horns grow to 66-74 cm long, exceptionally up to 81 cm according to Heptner et al. (1989).  The width of the horns is clearly demonstrated by the basal circumference, which - at 29-32 cm - may be over 30% of the total horn length (Lydekker, 1913; Heptner et al., 1989).   The horns may weigh up to 1.8 kg each (Heptner et al., 1989).

The horns of adult females are thin and relatively weak .  Elliptical in cross-section, the horns curve slightly in a single plane and rarely exceed 30 cm in length and 10 cm in circumference at their base (Heptner et al., 1989).

Ontogeny and Reproduction

West Caucasian tur are seasonal breeders, and with the rut extending from November to early January.  Gestation lasts for 150-160 days, with births occurring from mid to late May through June and sometimes into July (Heptner et al., 1989; Weinberg, 2004).  A single kid is the norm, although twins are known, and the weight at birth ranges from 3,500 to 4,200 grams (Heptner et al., 1989; Hess 1990; Weinberg, 2004).  Females do not retreat to a sheltered locale prior to parturition, but instead give birth in accessible areas; the kid gains its footing within a few hours and is fleet-footed after only a day (Heptner et al., 1989).  Females will generally hang back from the herd for the first ten days after birth, with the kid following the mother closely (Heptner et al., 1989).

Young will suckle until the end of the summer (i.e., 3-4 months), and on rare cases longer, but begin sampling solid foods (grasses) at one month of age (Heptner et al., 1989).  Kids account for 13% of the population one month after parturition, but early mortality is high and after a year the same cohort comprises only 5-9% of the population (Weinberg, 2004).

Females reach sexual maturity in their second year but at this age they are rarely sexually active, typically breeding for the first time during their third year (Heptner et al., 1989; Weinberg, 2004).  Although young males may become sexual mature at this time, they are not socially mature and ready to breed until four or five years of age (Heptner et al., 1989).  Captive females are capable of breeding every year, however, this rarely occurs in the wild and a large number of adult females remain barren in any given year (Heptner et al., 1989).  The life span of west Caucasian tur in the wild is not precisely known, but most adult animals die before the age of 10 or 12; on rare occasions, individuals may survive into their 15th or 16th year (Heptner et al., 1989).

Ecology

Very little recent ecological information has been published for the west Caucasian tur.  Heptner et al. (1989) provide a comprehensive overview of the biology of this species, and except where noted, this section is taken entirely from this source.

West Caucasian tur inhabit subalpine and alpine regions between 800 and 4,000 m above sea level.  Although the mountains in their range can reach 4,000 m, the permanent snowline restricts most tur to heights of 1,500 to 3,000 m (Weinberg, 2004).  Forest-covered slopes, often near steep rocky crags, are the primary habitat of this species.  Adult males typically inhabit higher, less accessible altitudes than females and young.  During the region's harsh winters, tur concentrate on sunny slopes, with 30 to 80% of the animals staying below timberline; during the summer, tur expand their distribution to slopes of different exposures (Weinberg, 2004).

For most of the year, adult male and female west Caucasian tur live separately, with mixed herds forming during the rut and remaining together for one to two months afterwards.  Group size is typically several dozen individuals, although large herds of up to several hundred occasionally form.  Such large groups quickly splinter again into smaller groups.  At high population densities, Weinberg (2004) found summer herd size to average 11.7 animals, while in winter this rose to 20.3 individuals.  Population densities in summer may reach 13 animals/km2, more than tripling in wintering areas to 44 animals/km2 (Weinberg, 2004).  The sex ratio usually favours females (Weinberg, 2004).

West Caucasian tur are preyed upon by wolf (Canis lupus) and lynx (Lynx lynx).  The leopard (Panthera pardus), while formerly a major predator of C. caucasica, is now very rare in the Caucasus.  Brown bear (Ursus arctos), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), and lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) are occasionally reported as predators of west Caucasian tur although there are no reliable reports to support these claims.  An additional threat to this species comes in the form of competition for resources, mainly from domestic livestock (especially sheep and goats).  Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) coexist with tur in summer, but in winter, when competition is fiercest, the two species typically inhabit different ranges.

The diet of C. caucasica contains over a hundred recorded species of plants.  Grasses, including sweet vernal grass, foxtail, mountain fescue, and meadow grass, are extremely important to tur, comprising 80-90% of raw stomach contents in the summer, and up to 70% in winter (Weinberg, 2004).  Other herbaceous plants eaten include chamomile, cornflower, and dandelion (Compositae); bennet, meadow sweet, and cinqufoil (Rosaceae); buttercup, aconite, crowfoot, and anenome (Ranunculaceae); as well as umbellifers, figworts (Pedicularis), buckwheat, and bluebell.  West Caucasian tur will consume shoots and leaves of willow and birch during summer, and (in the Caucasian preserve) have been observed in forested regions foraging for mushrooms (Russula sp.).

During the winter, snow cover complicates foraging; in snow up to 35 cm deep, tur will scrape away the snow using their hooves to reach vegetation buried underneath, but in deep snow will only eat those parts of plants which protrude from the surface.  Stalks, dessicated leaves, and grasses are commonly eaten, but the ever-green leaves of blackberry and ivy serve as a primary winter food source when available.  As fresh vegetation is difficult to find, foraging from trees and shrubs plays a substantial role in winter feeding, with thin twigs, shoots, buds, and bark (of willow, birch, maple, hazelnut, and pine) being consumed.  Tur may eat hanging lichens (Usnea barbata) and occasionally fir needles.

Salt licks are visited regularly throughout the year, typically in the evening; herds have been recorded travelling up to 10 km in order to reach mineral sources.  Water is sought out regularly only in areas where precipitation is low and the grass dry.

Behavior

The general behavior of C. caucasica is very similar to that of C. cylindricornis.  Heptner et al. (1989) discuss the behavior of the two species together; the relevant information is presented here.

C. caucasica is most active between the late afternoon and early morning.  Three to four hours before sunset, tur in protected areas will emerge from cover and move into the open to begin feeding.  Grazing continues throughout the night, alternating with periods of rest, until between 08:00 and 10:00 in the morning, when herds return to shelter.  In cloudy weather or on rainy days, tur may be seen foraging in the open throughout the day, while in areas of high human activity tur emerge to graze only after dusk, returning to cover at dawn.

West Caucasian tur inhabit a home range which varies in size from dozens of hectares to several square kilometers and which is somewhat dependent on season.  A herd may travel up to 15 or 20 km per day between pastures and resting sites in summer, although if they are close, daily movements may not exceed 5 km.  Daily "migrations" between feeding and resting areas are particularly distinct on southern slopes, which receive high amounts of solar exposure.

During the summer, these large-scale movements are driven mainly by the effects of temperature: open regions above the treeline can become intensely heated by the sun, causing the emergence of biting insects by 09:00.  As the flies emerge, grazing tur retreat to shelter at a brisk pace of 6-12 km per hour, either descending into the forest or climbing to higher elevations where the mountains remain cloud-capped throughout the day.  In cooler weather, on the other hand, tur spend considerably more time feeding before returning to their bedding areas, doing so at a leisurely 1 km per hour and grazing along the way.  During the hottest part of the day, tur will shelter in the shade of cliffs or in forests, and will even lie in snow if available at higher altitudes.  Site selection is driven by temperature; in forests, tur will choose ravines where a steady breeze blows, while in cooler temperatures of high altitudes they may lie out in the open.

Winter movements are much more restricted.  Due to heavy snowfalls in the region, west Caucasian tur become confined to much smaller areas; their movement is noticeably hindered in snow over 40 cm deep, and they are thus more vulnerable to predators and exhaustion.  Grazing and resting alternate more frequently, and herds may remain on open slopes for the full day, retiring only if there is a strong wind.  During severe weather, tur will shelter in forests, caves, and under cliffs, although animals may remain on open slopes and allow themselves to be covered with snow.

Seasonal migrations between summer and winter ranges are well documented, and may cover vertical distances of 1,500 to 2,000 meters.  In May, tur begin to move to higher altitudes, entering the alpine zone.  As the snow continues to thaw in the mountains, herds move even higher due to the growth of fresh vegetation and the preponderance of biting insects at lower altitudes.  The grazing of cattle in alpine regions also plays a significant role in when and where tur migrate.  As snow begins to fall (as early as September), tur are forced out of higher altitudes, but they will re-ascend if it melts.  By the end of October, most tur will have completed their final migration downwards; herds typically winter in the forests of the lower alpine zone (usually below 2,500 m above sea level).  Their winter range is often characterized by steep slopes with little snow, typically with a southern exposure; wind-swept outcrops are sometimes used as pasture.

While on the move, tur often follow the same trails day after day, with the result that they become well-worn and even trough-like.  Herds typically travel in single file, with one individual in front of the next.  Not surprising for a mountain ungulate, tur can negotiate precipitous terrain with ease, and will rest on steep slopes by sitting on their hindquarters like a dog.   West Caucasian tur have been observed wading into brooks and lakes.  This species is fleet over short distances, but is incapable of prolonged running at speed.

West Caucasian tur vocalize using sharp, intermittent whistling which sounds almost like a high-pitched sneeze..

Distribution

West Caucasian tur are confined to the western Caucasus mountains, and are found only in the high-montane region along the axis of the mountain range (Heptner et al., 1989).  They are found between the Chugush mountain (44o N, 40o E) and the upper Baksan river (43o N, 43o E), a range only 300 km in length (Heptner et al., 1989; Weinberg et al., 1997).  The width of this species' range averages only 15 km, rarely exceeding 30 km in a straight line, resulting in a natural range of only 4,500 km2  (Heptner et al., 1989).

Countries: Georgia, Russian Federation (IUCN, 2004).  

Range Map (Redrawn from Weinberg et al., 1997)

Conservation Status

C. caucasica is classified as endangered by the IUCN (2004), but is not listed on any CITES appendix.  In the late 1980's, the wild population was estimated to contain 12,000 animals (Weinberg et al., 1997).  A significant decline in numbers occurred through the 1990's, reducing the population to an estimated 5,000-6,000 animals (Weinberg, 2004).  Poaching is a major threat to the west Caucasian tur, as is habitat loss/degradation and competition resulting from livestock grazing (Weinberg et al., 1997).  Severe winters also take their toll on these animals, and, as tur are pushed into more marginal habitats, may have a greater impact in the future (Weinberg et al., 1997).  West Caucasian tur inhabit several protected regions, including the Caucasus and Yeberda Nature Reserves in Russia, and Pskhu-Gumista and Ritsa Nature Reserves in Georgia (Weinberg et al., 1997).

Remarks

Tur is a Russian word meaning a Caucasian goat.  As these tur are from the western Caucasus, the name west Caucasian tur is certainly logical, if a little cumbersome.  Some authors prefer the name Kuban tur, named after the basin of the Kuban river which originates at the border of Russia and Georgia and flows northwards and westwards (Heptner et al., 1989).

Capra (Latin) a she-goat. -icus (Latin) suffix meaning belonging to, thus caucasica can be translated as "of the Caucasus Mountains".

Local names (Heptner et al., 1989)
Abg-ab (), Abg-adzhma () [Abkhazian]
 
French
Bouquetin de Caucase
Tour du Caucase occidental (Hess, 1990)
 
German
Westkaukasischer Steinbock, Kuban-Tur (Hess, 1990)

Literature Cited

Heptner, V. G., A. A. Nasimovich, and A. G. Bannikov.  1989.  Kuban Tur (Capra caucasica).  In Mammals of the Soviet Union.  By Heptner, V. G., A. A. Nasimovich, and A. G. Bannikov.   New York: E.J. Brill.  pp. 816-826, 838-859.

Hess, R. 1990.  Siberian ibex (Capra ibex sibirica).  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5, pp.527-528.

IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources).  2004.  2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available online at http://www.redlist.org/

Lydekker, R.  1913.  Catalogue of the Ungulate Mammals in the British Museum (Natural History).  London and New York: Johnson Reprint Company.

Weinberg, P. J.  2004.  West Caucasian tur, biology, status and taxonomy.  Presented at the 2nd International Conference on the Alpine ibex.  XIXth Meeting of the Alpine Ibex European Specialist Group (GSE-AIESG).  2 December 2004.  Abstract available online at http://www.gseonline.org/pdf/Weinberg.pdf

Weinberg, P. I., A. K. Fedosenko, A. B. Arabuli, A. Myslenkov, A. V. Romashin, I. Voloshina, and N. Zheleznov.  1997.  The Commonwealth of Independent States (former USSR).  In Wild Sheep and Goats and their Relatives.  Status Survey and Action Plan for Caprinae.  Edited by D. M. Shackleton and the IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group.  IUCN: Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.  pp. 172-193.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at http://nmnhwww.si.edu/msw/

Additional Resources

Ayuntz, K. R.  1992.  On taxonomy of Caucasus turs.  Byulleten' Moskovskogo Obshchestva Ispytatelei Prirody Otdel Biologicheskii; 97(2): 19-25.

Bannikov, A. G.  1977.  Wildlife protection in the USSR.  Oryx; 14: 123-128.

Fainstein, V. V.  1989.  Goats of the genus Capra at the zoos of the Soviet Union.  In Achievements of zoos in breeding rare and endangered species of animals. Proceedings of the international conference.  Edited by V. V. Spitsin.  Ministry of Culture of the USSR, Moscow.: 1-60. Chapter pagination: 35-37.

Kotov, V. A.  1968.  The Kuban tur; its ecology and economic significance.  Proc. Cauc. Nat. Reserve; 10: 201-293 [In Russian].

Kuznetsova M. V., E. J. Kazanskaja, and A. A. Danilkin.  2003.  Analysis of Capra samples from Caucasus region based on mitochondrial D-loop sequences.  European Journal of Biochemistry; 1 Supplement 1 July: abstract number P1.3-14.  Available online at:  http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/febsabstracts2004/abstract.asp?id=17241

Romashin, A. V.  1997.  More precise estimation of population size by computer modeling based on the results of selective censuses and interpretation of its dynamics in wild goats (Capra caucasica Guld.) from the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve.  Russian Journal of Ecology; 28(5): 339-344.

Wilhelm, Z., A. Pechová, and R. Vodiãka.  2005.  Magnesium Cncentration in Serum and Erythrocytes of Ruminants, Perissodactyla and Primates in the Prague ZOO.  Acta Vet. Brno; 74: 467-473.

Return to Artiodactyla



© Brent Huffman, www.ultimateungulate.com
All rights reserved.
Questions or comments? Click here