The Japanese Serow, known as the Capricornis crispus by the scientific community, is a type of goat-antelope that resides in the dense woodlands of Japan, particularly in the Northern and Central parts of Honshu. It is recognized as Japan’s national symbol and, thus, is subjected to strict protection in various conservation areas.
During the mid-twentieth century, the wild animal nearly faced extinction due to it being hunted down for its thick coat. Through a law that was passed by the Japanese government during the year 1955, the Japanese Serow was designated as a Special National Monument, protecting it from poachers and the like.
Since then, the population of the Japanese Serow has continued to grow at a relatively rapid rate, so much so that it is now classified to be among the least of concern in the Red List of Threatened Animals by the IUCN.
At present, the Japanese Serow is protected in thirteen designated areas spread across 23 different prefectures. Outside of these conservation areas, the animal is subject to culling as pests.
Due to it being known as an agile animal, athletes who exhibit impressive speeds are often compared with the Japanese Serow. Even the Yamaha Motor Company has made use of the Serow’s name for their XT 225 Enduro Motorcycle.
Description of the Japanese Serow
When fully grown, the Japanese Serow stands at an average of 81 centimeters, or 32 inches, and weighs from 30 to 45 kilograms. The color of the Japanese Serow’s coat typically changes from black to off-white, lightening in color during the summer season. Its fur is best described to be quite bushy, especially when it comes to its tail.
Japanese Serows, regardless of gender, feature short horns that curve backwards and are typically hard to find through a quick glance.
Compared to the Mainland Serow, the Japanese Serow’s ears are significantly shorter, while its coat woolier and longer. The Japanese Serow also has three well-developed sets of skin glands, all of which increase in size as the animal gets older.
Upon reaching thirty months of age, all 32 teeth of the Japanese Serow take form. The animal’s teeth usually feature blackened inner sides that feature a substance that many types of research have defined to be hard to remove; this substance is believed to be tree resin.
There are no clear distinctions when it comes to male and female Japanese Serows. Although the growth increment in female Japanese Serows slows down earlier than the males’, the only way for researchers to determine the gender of the animal is to observe their sexual behaviors or genitalia.
As for the hearing and eyesight of the Japanese Serow, it is able to detect and respond to different movements from an impressive distance. Furthermore, the Japanese Serow also has no problem seeing in low light. The animal’s sense of smell is also quite strong and is shown by the way it constantly raises its head to sniff around the air.
Habitat of the Japanese Serow
The Japanese Serow is Japan’s only wild bovine ruminant and is prevalent in Northern Honshu, Central Honshu, and in several areas of Kyushu and Shikoku. It is able to live in colder climates compared to Mainland Serows and has no difficulty tolerating snow.
These animals can be found living alone, in pairs, or in small family groups. Japanese Serows usually set up their territories in open forests or grasslands that are about a thousand meters above sea level, particularly making use of caves.
Temperate deciduous forests are usually preferred by the Japanese Serows but they can also be found living in subalpine coniferous forests made up of Japanese beech, alpine meadow, or Japanese oak. The Japanese Serow can be quite territorial and marks its chosen space through a sweet-sour smelling secretion from their preorbital glands.
Interestingly, male and female Japanese Serows choose to have separate territories that may overlap with each other. The territory of a male Japanese Serow is usually larger than that of a female Japanese Serow.
During earlier years, Japanese wolves served as the main predators of the Japanese Serows. When these wolves became extinct, only a few predators interested in the Japanese Serow remained, bears among the most prevalent.
Given the sensitive hearing and sense of smell of Japanese Serows, they can usually detect danger way before the predator has a chance to get close enough for them to not be able to flee. Interestingly, the Japanese Serow does a whistling snort when it senses a predator or dangerous situation nearby.
As previously mentioned, the Japanese Serow is quite agile. Its natural build allows it to be sprint up mountains or jump across large distances with little difficulty.
Behavior & Diet of the Japanese Serow
Although not particularly an aggressive animal, the Japanese Serow does have a tendency to attack when it comes to territorial breaches. Aside from that, the Japanese Serow typically goes about its day paying minimal attention to other nearby animals.
When it comes to the animal’s diet and eating behavior, the Japanese Serow, being a browser, usually feeds during early mornings and late afternoons. It primarily feeds on coniferous leaves, fleshy leaves, acorns, and plant shoots, but also eats Japanese witch-hazel, sedge, alder, and Japanese cedar.
According to previous research, sever cold climates or winters rarely have any impact on the diet of the Japanese Serow, suggesting that the animal is able to carefully select its territory in terms of food supply for the whole year.
Baby/Reproduction of the Japanese Serow
Japanese Serows typically live up to 20 – 25 years. Female Japanese Serows reach their peak in terms of sexual maturity upon reaching thirty months of age.
Breeding usually takes place between Japanese Serows starting at the age of 2.5 years and only happens once a year, particularly sometime during the months of September, October, November, December, and January.
The courtship ritual of the Japanese Serow is similar to those of gazelles of goats, wherein the male Japanese Serow licks the mouth of the female Japanese Serow and strikes her hind legs using his forelegs. The male Japanese Serow then proceeds to rub the genitalia of the female Japanese Serow using his horns and waits for her positive response.
Japanese Serows usually give birth sometime between the months of June, July, and August, 210 to 220 days of gestation. The process takes about thirty minutes and consists of the female Japanese Serow simply walking about.
A Japanese Serow fawn often measures 30 centimeters in height and reaches his maximum height by the age of 1. Fawns stay with their mother for about a year or two from their day of birth, gradually moving farther and farther away from the territory of their mother before finally marking its own space.
Fawns that do not establish their own territory after a couple of years are typically chased away by their mothers, as a way of forcing them to do so.
Population/Status (Endangered) of the Japanese Serow
The Japanese Serow was among the most hunted animals, alongside bears, in Japan before the establishment of animal protection laws. They were one of the most valued catches when it came to the mountainous regions of the country due to the various uses provided by every body part of the Japanese Serow.
Its meat, in particular, was widely eaten during the mid-20th century, while its hides, which are waterproof, were used for the backflaps of rafters. According to records, the horns of the Japanese Serow had medicinal uses and were great for curing stomachaches or preventing one from acquiring diseases such as beriberi.
By the year 1955, the population of the Japanese Serow had gone down to 2000 – 3000. Fortunately, efforts were made to stop poaching and put the animal in a safer position. During the 1980s, the population of the Japanese Serow had significantly increased, reaching about 100,000 in total.
Due to issues with the forestry and agricultural sectors that resulted in the repeal of the animal’s protection through the 1955 law, thirteen designated areas were established over different prefectures across Japan which are as follows:
The Shimokita Peninsula, or referred to as Shimokita Hanto, was established in 1981 in the month of April, in the prefecture of Aomori. It covers an estimated total of 92,000 acres of land.
The Kita-Ou Mountains, or referred to as Kita-Ou Sankei, was established in 1984 in the month of February, in the prefectures of Aomori, Akita, and Iwate. It covers an estimated total of 260,000 acres of land.
The Kitakami Mountains, or referred to as Kitakami Sankei, was established in 1982 in the month of July, in the prefecture of Iwate. It covers an estimated total of 100,000 acres of land.
The Minami-Ou Mountains, or referred to as Minami-Ou Sankei, was established in 1984 in the month of November, in the prefectures of Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, and Miyagi. It covers an estimated total of 143,000 acres of land.
The Asahi-Iide Mountains or referred to as Asahi-Iide Sankei, was established in 1985 in the month of March, in the prefectures of Yamagata, Fukushima, and Niigata. It covers an estimated total of 300,000 acres of land.
The Echigo-Nikko-Mikuni Mountains, or referred to as Echigo-Nikko-Mikuni Sankei, was established in 1984 in the month of May, in the prefectures of Fukushima, Niigata, Tochigi, Gunma, and Nagano. It covers an estimated total of 532,000 acres of land.
The Kanto Mountains, or referred to as Kanto Sanchi, was established in 1984 on the month of November, in the prefectures of Gunma, Saitama, Tokyo, Yamanashi, and Nagano. It covers an estimated total of 200,000 acres of land.
The Minami Alps, or referred to as Minami Arupusu, was established in 1980 in the month of February, in the prefectures of Yamanashi, Nagano, and Shizuoka. It covers an estimated total of 300,000 acres of land.
The Kita Alps, or referred to as Kita Arupusu, was established in 1979 in the month of November, in the prefectures of Niigata, Nagano, Toyama, and Gifu. It covers an estimated total of 483,000 acres of land.
The Shirayama was established in 1982 in the month of February, in the prefectures of Toyama, Ishikawa, Gifu, and Fukui. It covers an estimated total of 133,000 acres of land.
The Suzuka Mountains, or referred to as Suzuka Sanchi, was established in 1983 in the month of September, in the prefectures of Shiga, and Mie. It covers an estimated total of 35,000 acres of land.
The Ibuki-Hira Mountains, or referred to as Ibuki-Hira Sankei, was established in 1986 in the month of March, in the prefectures of Gifu, Shiga, Fukui, and Kyoto. It covers an estimated total of 167,000 acres of land.
The Kii Mountains, or referred to as Kii Sankei, was established in 1989 in the month of July, in the prefectures of Mie, Nara, and Wakayama. It covers an estimated total of 196,000 acres of land.
By the year 2008, the status of the Japanese Serow as an endangered animal was ranked to be a least concern species by the IUCN, given its stabilized and increasing population.
The Japanese Serow Animal in Zoo Tycoon
The Japanese Serow has become so iconic to the country of Japan that Zoo Tycoon, a video game that allows players to build and run their own zoos, includes the animal in its Zoo Tycoon: Endangered Species Theme Pack.
Although the Japanese Serow is now racked to be of least concern in the list of endangered animals, it is part of the said theme pack of Zoo Tycoon due to the period when the video game first came out. During that time, the Japanese Serow was nearly extinct due to hunting and poaching.
As for Zoo Tycoon 2, the Japanese Serow is not officially included in the animals that players may include in their zoos. However, there have been several creations by avid fans of the video game which closely resemble the appearance and behavior of the Japanese Serow.