2017 “Chillin’ with Animals” Calendar – December Story





The strikingly photogenic chamois




Chamois 8x10

From my 2015 calendar

I have mentioned, on more than one occasion, how much I enjoy the calm, quiet spaciousness of the Eurasia Wilds section of the Toronto Zoo. The west Caucasian turs have become among my favourite animals to visit and, now that there are two precocious kittens in the snow leopard exhibit, I am spending more and more time in that exact area. This also allows me to more often catch up with another beautiful mountain-dwelling goat-antelope: the chamois. They are easy to miss, as they occupy space on the opposite side of the path from the eagle owl, the Stellar’s sea eagles, and the snow leopards; on top of this, they are quite often grazing on the grassy plains behind their small mountain-like structure at the front of the exhibit and it’s easy to just not even notice there’s an enclosure there at all. But there is, and the chamois dwell there, and they are supremely beautiful at all times of the year, but especially, in my opinion, in winter.




Chamois 1

An unfamiliar chamois?

However, in skimming through my photo collection I have discovered that I have not taken very many shots of the chamois at the Zoo at all. I find this a bit odd, because I know I have spent quite a bit of time looking at (and talking to) them; perhaps it might have something to do with the sightlines of the exhibit, I’m not sure. The couple who currently occupy the main exhibit these days are Julie (featured in my calendar) and Wily, whose name I could not for the life of me remember in time to produce this post before December 1st and, consequently, it arrived later in the day. I leaned on a few friends for the information and, between Hilary (whose painting of Juno appeared in my November post about that little polar bear), and Jennifer and Breanne, two of the Keepers in the Eurasia Wilds, I managed to not only discover Wily’s name, but also how to pronounce it (“Willy”). As for trying to tell them apart, both Keepers have indicated that it’s very difficult even for them. There’s a book Breanne checked in the Keeper room that listed them by coloured ear tags; since the only tag(s) I can see these days are silver, this is clearly outdated. For now, the best piece of info Breanne could give me was that Julie “squats when she pees,” while Jennifer has told me that Wily is slightly bigger but also he chases Julie from time to time, but never the other way around. So you have that information, at least. It appears to me that their horns have a slightly different hook at the end from each other, but even then I cannot be sure. In any event, today I watched one be slightly more aggressive toward the geese in their exhibit so I assumed he was Wily; I called out this name and he stopped and looked right at me. So thanks for that, Jennifer!




Chamois face on

Around the back of the hill

I did learn a few more interesting tidbits while researching the chamois for this post. First of all, I confirmed that pronouncing it “sham-wah” is the most correct, but saying “shammy” as in the cleaning cloth which used to be made from the hide of this animal is acceptable as well. “Sham-wow“, on the other hand, is not acceptable, as that is an “As Seen on TV” cleaning product from Germany, and “you know the Germans always make good stuff” according to Headset Vince. (If you really don’t know what I’m talking about, do yourself a favour and click on that link. You can thank me later.) I also learned that the Dutch word for chamois is gems and the male is called a gemsbok. This same word, in Afrikaans, refers to a type of oryx in sub-Saharan Africa, and that has made its way into English for that creature. I have also learned, from my friend and mentor (when I was a Trainee), Glen, that there was at one time a much larger herd of chamois at the Zoo which has now dwindled down to the current three (the third, Bailey, isn’t seen on the exhibit proper as he lost his buddy a few years ago and would fight with Wily if they went in together. When I take a close look at the photo in the paragraph above this one, I wonder if that were perhaps one of Bailey or his buddy before he passed away, because the horns look quite different from the two chamois I normally see these days (that photo was taken 3 1/2 years ago). I imagine it’s only a matter of time before this species is phased out of the plans completely (it happens to most of the “smaller-ticket” animals eventually), so please do drop in on them if you’re in their area.

In any event, much as I love looking at these magnificent animals, I really don’t have any great stories to share with you, nor many more photos. A bit of an anti-climactic way to end 2017, I realize, but the way this year has gone perhaps we can all use some non-excitement for a change. I do have one final photo, though, that nearly made the cut for 2018’s calendar and likely would have had I not put Julie in for 2017. Every time I look at this photo I am struck by how much this chamois – with the pose, the crochet-hook horns, the colouring, all of it – looks like a character from a Tim Burton movie. I love this photo.




Chamois 8x10

This looks like a cel from a Tim Burton film, hand-drawn and tinted.



Well, again I apologize for this post being a few hours late, but…. 24 posts in 12 months and not one of them was any later than the evening of the 1st of the month. I am pretty happy with that result, and next year I will try to improve upon it by having everything “in the can” a little bit earlier than the last of the month. It’s a huge challenge for me, in my experience, but we’ll see what happens. Why don’t you come along for the journey, whether you’ve bought one of my 2018 calendars or not?

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and see you on the other side! Cheers!