The older books often describe serows as ‘goat-antelopes’ but it is a term best avoided. They, along with the gorals (I also show a shot of the Chinese Goral), mountain goat and chamois, are included in one tribe of the subfamily Caprinae which includes all the sheep, goats and ibexes as well as the takins and musk-ox. The are all, of course, in that large family Bovidae.
At present the individual we saw is considered a Chinese Serow. One species that occurred over much of Asia was split into four in the 1980s but there is still much debate on the taxonomy. So the Chinese Serow now goes under the name of that Père David (1826-1900), the famous French missionary and explorer, gave it in 1869: Capricornis milnedwardsii, for, I presume Henri (1800-1885), rather than his son, Alphonse (1835-1900), Milne-Edwards, the famous French zoologist with the very English name (his father was British).
Chinese Serows inhabit steep mountain slopes where they eat leaves and shoots. They are nocturnal, solitary and shy, so they are rarely photographed in the wild.
We were surprised by the agility of the serows we saw. This one used its hooves and front legs to pull branches and leaves within reach of its mouth while it held the branches or saplings down with its own weight. We also saw one on the riverbank further downstream. Startled by traffic on the road it charged across the river and up the very steep opposite bank very quickly indeed. Those longer hind legs with powerful muscles soon had it away from the perceived danger.
The size of its back legs reminded us of what we were told in Japan where another species of serow occurs in the mountains. Japanese girls of not so longer ago had to use the squat lavatories so loathed by western visitors to Asia and, it was said, developed leg muscle accordingly, rather than the slim legs they longed for. So ‘having legs like a serow’ is most definitely not a compliment in Japan.
Later during the trip, at Tangjiahe, we found a dead immature serow by the side of the track. We were told it is not uncommon to find them dead and in the IUCN account of this species it is noted: In 1962, a die-off caused by an unknown epizootic was reported in the Tangjiahe area. There are reports of similar occurrences in Japan with parapoxvirus as the likely cause. In India, sarcoptic mange has been implicated in the die-off of Himalayan Serows.
The Chinese Serow is classified as Near Threatened by IUCN.
Another caprine we saw on the forested slopes was the Chinese Goral (Naemorhedus griseus). It is classified by IUCN as Vulnerable.
The was taken using spotlights at night in the forests of Labahe, Sichuan Province.