Capricornis crispus


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Capricornis crispus
Species Authority: (Temminck, 1836)
Common Name/s:
English Japanese Serow
Taxonomic Notes: Wilson and Reeder (1993) treated this as Naemorhedus crispus, but Grubb (2005) placed it in the genus Capricornis and C. swinhoei. See also Jass and Mead (2004). Recent genetic evidence has supported that Capricornis swinhoei is a distinct species from Capricornis crispus (Chang 2002, Min et al. 2004).

Taxonomy of serows is not completely resolved; descriptions, range maps, and assessments of conservation status in the literature vary because sources differ on nomenclature and specific/subspecific status of the various taxa. Here, we follow the taxonomy of Wilson and Reeder, 3rd edition (2005). Thus, we recognize six species of Capricornis:

C. crispus (Japanese Serow, restricted to Japan)
C. milneedwardsii (Chinese Serow, but also occurring in southeast Asian countries)
C. rubidus (Red Serow, restricted to Myanmar)
C. sumatraensis (Sumatran Serow, in Indonesia, Malaysia and southern Thailand)
C. swinhoei (Formosan Serow, restricted to Taiwan)
C. thar (Himalayan Serow, along the Himalayan range)

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor/s: Tokida, K.
Reviewer/s: Harris, R. & Festa-Bianchet, M. (Caprinae Red List Authority)
This species is listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, large population, and stable or increasing population. It is dependent on continued protection, including from hunting and persecution by forestry operations.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The Japanese serow (Capricornis crispus) is endemic to Japan on three of the main islands: Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. The species is widespread in appropriate habitat on Honshu, but is absent from lowland cultivated areas and areas around human settlements. On Shikoku and Kyushu, their distribution is more limited. It became extinct in western Honshu and greatly reduced in other areas before the early 20th century. Since the 1960s, its range has been expanding.
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The Japanese serow is common in the mountain ranges of northern and central Honshu, and eastern Shikoku, but is restricted to small, fragmented areas in Kyushu. By 1978 the total range occupied by serow was estimated at 34,500 km², with total number estimated by the block count method (Maruyama and Nakama, 1983) of 70,000 to 100,000 animals. In 1983, the total population was estimated by the Environmental Agency at ca. 100,000 animals with a distribution area of more than 39,000 km². In 2003, the distribution had expanded to 170% of that in 1978. On the other hand, the population density has slightly decreased in many areas. Currently the population is assumed to be stable or slowly increasing.
Population Trend: Increasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: This species is diurnal, though the animals actively feed only in the early morning and late afternoon. Their habitat includes various vegetation types such as broad-leaved evergreen forest, subalpine coniferous forest, alpine meadow and coniferous plantations, but temperate deciduous forest that is their preferred habitat. They eat fleshy leaves, evergreen leaves, plant shoots, and acorns (Jass and Mead 2004). This species is a monogamous, territorial browser, and sexual dimorphism is not developed. They are found solitarily, in pairs or small family groups. The population density is generally low (the average was 2.6/km² in the 1983 survey). Females mature sexually at 30 months. The gestation period is 7 months, and females give birth to single fawn. Life expectancy at birth and longevity are estimated to be 4.8-6.5 years and 25 years respectively (Tokida and Miura, 1988, Miura and Tokida, 1992).
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The serow had been threatened due to over-hunting until the 1950s. It is considered that the poaching pressure was exceedingly high before the 1950’s. However, poacher’s syndicates were eliminated by anti-poaching campaign in 1959, and after that serow population began to increase. Furthermore, the increase of young conifer plantations, which occurred from 1950s to 1970s and supplied a large quantity of food for serow, might affect the population growth. From middle of 1970s to early 1990s, damage on young conifer plantations and agricultural crops by serow increased and the high level had been maintained. The management measures of this species became a matter of controversy between conservationists, and forest owners and/or farmers, then the government agencies decided to start serow control in 1978. In 1990s, damage by serow had declined with decrease of young plantations. On the other hand, damage on forestry and agriculture by sika deer (Cervus nippon), wild boar (Sus scrofa), and Japanese monkey (Macaca fuscata) has remarkably increased, and accordingly social demands to control serow had decreased.

The sika deer population is conspicuously increasing throughout Japan in recent years, and undergrowth of forest is decreasing by the grazing and browsing, and the interspecific competition with sika deer might affect serow population.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Due to a severe decline in the early 20th century, serow was designated a ‘Non Game Species’ by the Hunting Law in 1925, and hunting of this species was prohibited. In 1934, this species was designated to ‘’Natural Monument Species’’ under the Law for Protection of Cultural Properties (LPCP). In 1955, its status was raised to ‘’Special Natural Monument Species’’. Although serow hunting has been prohibited by laws since 1925, poaching pressure was high before the 1950s. As a result of the anti-poaching campaign conducted throughout the country in 1959, poacher’s syndicates were eliminated, and the serow population began to increase. The population increase was probably also due to an increase in suitable habitat in the form of young coniferous plantations created from 1950s to 1970s. By the 1970s these artificial plantation accounted for more than 40% of forest cover in Japan, and the serow range had expanded to around 40,000 km² ,and population increased to 100,000. However, with this increase, damage to forestry and agricultural production had also drastically increased and conflicts arose between serow conservation and primary industries. Nevertheless, any capture of serows, including nuisance animal control, was not permitted until 1978 (with the exception of scientific research).

The Japanese serow is legally managed under two laws, LPCP and the Wildlife Protection and Hunting Law (WPHL). The competent authority of LPCP is the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and that of WPHL is the Environmental Agency (currently Ministry of the Environment). The Forestry Agency has jurisdiction over forest management policy, which concerns damage prevention and habitat treatment. In 1979, these three Agencies reached an agreement to change serow management measures. The essential points of new management policy were as follows.
1) To establish serow protection areas. This decision meant the designation of ‘Special Natural Monument Species’ would be repealed and instead ‘Serow Protection Areas’ would be designated based on LPCP in the future.
2) To allow serow cull as pest control outside the serow protection areas in cases of necessity.
3) The Agency for Cultural Affairs would bear responsibility for conservation in the protection areas, the Environmental Agency would bear responsibility for management of serow outside the protection areas, and the Forestry Agency for avoiding serow damage on young conifer plantations by non-fatal methods such as fencing and netting.
Conservationists, nature conservation NGOs, and some biologists opposed to this policy change.

Three primary functions were expected from the protection areas were 1) to maintain stable and viable local populations; 2) to preserve the geographical genetic diversity of serow populations; and 3) to establish a management system for serow and its habitat. Fifteen protection areas were nominated and 13 of them had been established by 1989, ranging in size from 143 km² to 2,180 km². The total area is 11,800 km², which covers about 20% of the current serow range over 23 prefectures. However, in many cases, the protection areas avoid commercial forests, and are situated at relatively high elevations including unsuitable habitats for serow. Therefore, some protection areas do not have enough suitable habitat quality and/or area size for the effecitve protection of local populations.

The Agency of Cultural Affairs initiated a systematic survey of serow management in 1985, composed of main and supplemental survey programs. The purpose of main survey program is to monitor population trends and habitat conditions once every 6 or 7 years for each protection area. This program is carried out by specialists. The supplemental survey program is carried out annually, except in the main survey’s year, by local inhabitants to monitor population indices, habitat changes and damage, by simple and easy methods. The data from both programs are used to develop the management plan for each protection area. Protection areas are not yet established in Kyushu and Shikoku due to disagreements with land owners. Therefore, the Japanese serow still retains the status of ‘Special Natural Monument Species’.

In 1978, a control cull began in the restricted small areas of Gifu and Nagano Prefectures, and the culling area has expanded to large part of central Honshu. As a matter of course, control cull is conducted outside the protection areas. The total number of serow removed was over 20,000 by 2005. The damage to conifer plantations in central Honshu markedly decreased in 1990s, because population density of serow in this area and also the area of young conifer plantations have reduced. Two kinds of permissions, based on LPCP and WPHL, are required for control culls of serow. The areas and periods of the control, the upper limit of the harvest number, and the capture methods are specified in the permits. Biological investigation of killed serow has been continued since the beginning of the control. Place and date of capture, sex, age, and reproductive condition are recorded for almost all individuals. These data are used for serow management.

In 1999, the WPHL was amended and the ‘Specified Wildlife Management Plan System’ was established. This is a legal management system and each prefecture can make a plan to properly manage wildlife populations. This plan must state specific goals for the target species, and prescribe concrete measure for properly controlled hunting, preventing negative influences on the population, and conserving habitats. This adaptive management system is considered to be useful and practical for management of serow outside the protection areas, and seven such plans for serow had been established by 2007.

The management system for serow has significantly developed during the last 25 years. Serow populations are stable and/or increasing in most areas, but following problems might affect negatively some populations:
1) Growth of conifer plantations planted for the period from late 1950s to 1980s and over-grazing and/or browsing by sika deer reduce food supply for serow and deteriorate habitat quality.
2) Interspecific competition with sika deer may reduce serow populations.

The serow population has recently decreased in Kyushu. It is considered this decrease is probably caused by interspecific competition with sika deer. Also, the influence of deer control operations, such as disturbance of home ranges and accidental killing by hunting dogs and deer-fencing, might be having an impact. Surveys and countermeasures are needed for these problems.

Bibliography [top]

Chang, H.-C. 2002. Phylogeny and biogeography of the genus Capricornis (Artiodactyla: Bovidae) based on mitochondrial DNA sequences and cranial morphometrics. Thesis, National Taiwan Normal University.

Grubb, P. 2005. Artiodactyla. In: D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder (eds), Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed), pp. 637-722. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA.

IUCN. 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2008).

Jass, C. N. and Mead, J. I. 2004. Capricornis crispus. Mammalian Species 750: 1-10.

Kishimoto, R. and Kawamichi, T. 1996. Territoriality and monogamous pairs in a solitary ungulate, the Japanese serow, Capricornis crispus. Animal Behaviour 52(4): 673-682.

Maruyama, N. and Nakama, S. 1983. Block count method for estimating serow populations.

Maruyama, N., Ikeda, H., Hanai, M. and Tokida, K. 1997. Japan. In: D. M. Shackleton (ed.), Wild Sheep and Goats and Their Relatives: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Caprinae, pp. 271-274. IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland.

Min, M. S., Okumura, H., Jo, D. J., An, J. H., Kim, K. S., Kim, C. B., Shin, N. S., Lee, M. H., Han, M. H., Voloshina, I. V. and Lee, H. 2004. Molecular phylogenetic status of the Korean goral and Japanese serow based on partial sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Molecules and Cells 17: 365-372.

Miura, S. and Tokida, K. 1992. Demographic parameters of Japanese serow population in Japan. In: B. Bobek, K. Perzanovski and W. Regelin (eds), Global Trends in Wildlife Management, pp. 423-426. Swiat Press, Krakow-Warszawa.

Natori, Y. and Porter, W. P. 2007. Model Of Japanese Serow (Capricornis crispus) Energetics Predicts Distribution On Honshu, Japan. Ecological Applications 17: 1441-1459.

Ochiai, K. and Susaki, K. 2002. Effects of territoriality on population density in the Japanese serow (Capricornis crispus). Journal of Mammalogy 83: 964-972.

Tokida, K. and Miura, S. 1988. Mortality and life table of a Japanese serow (Capricornis crispus) population in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. Journal of the Mammalogical Society of Japan 13(2): 119-126.

Wilson, D. E. and Reeder, D. M. 1993. Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, USA.

Citation: Tokida, K. 2008. Capricornis crispus. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <>. Downloaded on 16 April 2014.
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