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

Capricornis crispus

      Japanese serow


Capricornis crispus [Temminck, 1845].  
Citation: Fauna Japonica, 1(Mamm.), p. 55, pl. 18,19.
Type locality: Japan, Honshu.

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

General Characteristics

Body Length: 80-180 cm / 2.6-6 ft.
Shoulder Height: 50-94 cm / 1.6-3.1 ft.
Tail Length: 6-16 cm / 2.4-6.3 in.
Weight: 25-140 kg / 55-308 lb.

Unlike its relatives, the Japanese serow's upper coat not uniform in colour.  Rather, it is mottled - made of long hairs varying from white to purplish black in colour.  The legs are dark brown or black in colour, and there may be a dark "collar" encircling the lower neck.  There is a white "beard" under the chin which extends down the throat and up along the jowls.  The long ears are pointed and covered in brown hair, while the bridge of the nose is dark and naked.  The underparts are light.  The preorbital glands (found in front of the eyes), are well developed, and excrete a clear substance which smells of acetic acid (vinegar).  The tail is moderately bushy.  Both sexes carry the slightly curved horns, which are ridged on their lower two thirds and grow 8-15 cm / 3.2-6 inches in length.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 7 months.
Young per Birth: 1, rarely 2.
Weaning: At 5-6 months.
Sexual Maturity: Females at 2.5 years, males between 2.5 and 3 years.
Life span: Up to 20 years.

Mating takes place in October and November.

Ecology and Behavior

The Japanese serow feeds during the early morning and late afternoon, sheltering in caves and under rock ledges during the rest of the day.  While they move with a slow, clumsy gait, they are sure-footed and steady, negotiating steep rocky slopes with ease.  For most of the year, the Japanese serow lives in small, discrete home ranges.  For individuals, they vary from 1.3-4.4 hectares in size, while family groups inhabit areas of 9.7-21.7 hectares.  These may constitute exclusive territories, defended against members of the same sex, although little has been done to study them.  Both sexes mark their home ranges with the secretion from their preorbital glands.  Regular paths are established within these ranges, leading to specific defecation and resting spots.  During conflicts, the opponents chase each other, inflicting serious injuries by stabbing with their sharp horns.

Family group: Solitary, in pairs, or small family groups.
Diet: Fleshy leaves, evergreen 'leaves', shoots, acorns.


Densely wooded hillsides and conifer forests in Japan.

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

Conservation Status

The Japanese serow is considered a low risk, conservation dependent species by the IUCN (1996).


One of Japan's official national treasures, the Japanese serow (and its relatives) have caused a problem for taxonomists due to their unique characteristics. The currently recognized species of serow were once all clumped together under the specific name sumatrensis, giving only subspecific status to each variety.  Even now, uncertainty remains regarding the Formosan serow (C. swinhoei), with some taxonomists listing it as a subspecies of the Japanese serow.  Serow ("suh-ROW") is the name for the Sumatra serow used by the Lapchas, who inhabit the Himalayas.  Capra (Latin) a she-goat; cornu (Latin) the horn of an animal; hence "Capricornis" implies the presence of goat-like horns. Crispus (Latin) curly-headed.

Literature Cited

Maruyama, N., H. Ikeda, M. Hanai, and K. Tokida.  1997.  Japan.  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. 271-274. 

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991.  Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition).  Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Soma, H.  Serows (Genus Capricornis).  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5,  pp. 505-506.

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

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