Wild Cattle Family (Bovidae)
Measurement: Size: 180-200 cm/100 cm at the shoulders Weight: 80-90 kg
Description: Mountain goats are the true masters of the high country. Eschewing the valley bottoms for the high ridges, they are rarely seen at road level. Pull out your binoculars and scan the ridges for what appears to be a moving patch of snow. Closer observation will reveal a snow-white animal with a long shaggy coat, and black dagger-like horns. Both the nannies and billies look similar, with the billies being slightly larger. The body is very stalky, with a large head and forebody. The distance between their front and back legs is also very short, allowing them to turn around in the tightest quarters. Their hooves are large and fleshy, spreading wide to provide maximum grip on the slippery mountain rocks.
Mountain goats are found throughout the Canadian Rockies, as well as the Glacier National Park in Montana and the northern US Rockies. They are most commonly found on narrow alpine ridges where they feed. They occasionally drop down to low elevation mineral licks. Here, they can be seen licking the gravels to replace nutrients lost during the shedding of their winter coats.
Prime Viewing Locations
In Jasper National Park, visit the Goats and Glaciers viewpoint to the south of Jasper Townsite on the Icefields Parkway, or head east from Jasper on Highway 16 to Disaster Point.
In Banff, trails like C-Level Cirque offer good opportunities for goats, but the best roadside viewing, albeit at a distance, is along the Icefields Parkway at Mount Coleman. Numerous goats are generally visible along the steep slopes.
In Montana, head to Glacier National Park. Along Highway 2, a few kilometres south of the Walton Ranger Station, there is another mineral lick.
Mountain goats live high on the steep mountain slopes. While at first look, it may appear to be an un likely place to eke out a living, the high winds of the alpine often keep some of the high mountain ridges snow free even in the deep of winter. On these tiny ledges, goats can find small pockets of vegetation on which to feed. Here they are have little competition from other herbivores, and are also safe from most predators.
As the fall rut approaches, billies will begin to wallow in urine soaked patches in order to maximize their scent. Goats don't bash heads like bighorn sheep, but rather circle each other, trying to strike the hind quarters of the opponent with their sharp horns. The horns are very sharp, and serious injuries may occur. They usually don't collect harems, but this does occur on occasion.
After 147 to 178 days, the nannies give birth to a single (sometimes twins) kid.
Notes: Mountain goats are capable of moving along the narrowest of ledges. Their soft hooves spread wide to give them a solid purchase on these sheer faces. Despite this demonstrated prowess, falls and avalanches are two of the most common causes of mortality. Even the best climbers can fall, and numerous goats die from falls each year.
Why are goats white when most white animals change colour during the summer months? In the alpine, there are always patches of snow that remain throughout the summer. Unlike a snowshoe hare that stands out starkly if it were to remain white during the summer, in the alpine another patch of white is often ignored. In a way, by standing out, the goats can blend in with the other patches of white that surround them.
Mountain Goat sightings
a guide to help you spot some
All Material © Ward Cameron 2005