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NatureSpeak Articles

Mountain Goat: Oreamnos americanus

During a recent stay at the Callaghan Country Lodge (a wilderness resort located approximately 26 kilometres from Whistler at the base of Powder Mountain and Callaghan Mountain), I did a climb up Powder Mountain. After going to the summit, we were having a bit of a break and relaxing on a rock overlooking the Callaghan Valley. As I was enjoying the peace and quiet and the views below, I became aware of movement up on the glacier. It looked like a huge fluffy cloud but after looking through the binnocs I realized it was a very large male mountain goat.

I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised to sight this animal because as we had made our way up, we had spotted what looked like goat droppings along the rocky promontories. They varied in colour from dark grey to black. It was also apparent that some animal had scraped the loose surfaces to make a depression in the rocky flat areas for a bed. They were located in areas with a secure cliff behind them and the view was spectacular.

Mountain goats are remarkable climbers, able to scale extremely steep cliffs with ease. Without doubt, they are the best climbers of all the ungulates in British Columbia, but contrary to some popular accounts, their hooves are not suction cups. They are soft, rough-textured pads on the undersides of their hooves and that gives them more surface friction. The hard keratin edges of the hooves help them cling to narrow rock ledges.

Mountain goats occupy alpine and sub-alpine meadows and steep forested slopes. They are able to live on a wide variety of plant foods and can tolerate deep snow, two qualities which probably account for their widespread distribution throughout the province.

The mating season varies from October to mid-December and it depends partly on latitude. During the rut, the males rub their horn glands on bushes. The male will also paw a depression in the ground, urinate in it, then rub his rear flanks in the wet dirt. Presumably, by covering himself with urine he increases his odour and also advertises his condition to females and rival males.

The courting male will approach a female in a crouch, neck extended and nose pointed slightly upward, tongue flicking in and out. The male must use caution approaching the female (what else is new?) as she will threaten him with her sharp horns. When he is close to the female, he will nose her rear and flank, and gently kick her with a front leg (romantic, n'est-ce pas?). If she urinates, the male sniffs her and performs a lip-curl to test her reproductive condition. When the female is in full heat, she stands and allows the male to mount her, and she may even mount the courting male. The gestation period is 147-178 days. Goats are born in late May and early June.

The age of mountain goats can be determined by counting horn sheath rings. Goats typically live 10-11 years. The main predators are cougars, wolves; occasional predators are bobcats, coyotes, wolverines, grizzly bears and black bears. Steep cliffs provide mountain goats with essential security against mammalian predators, although the cliff habitat may be less useful against golden eagles, which sometime prey on young goats.

Keep your eyes open around Whistler for these beautiful all-white or light cream coloured animals with pointed ears, short beard and short black pointed horns. In addition to the Callaghan Valley, potential sighting spots nearby include Rainbow Mountain and Garibaldi Park. There have been numerous sightings along the ridges of the Spearhead Range. It seems that the population of goats in the Singing Pass area may be recovering from lows in the 1960s when hunting was still allowed within the Park.

Upcoming Events:

Monthly Bird Walk — The next bird walk will take place Saturday, Dec. 4th and will start at the later fall/winter time of 8 a.m. Join Whistler experts in the monthly update of our feathered locals and migrants.

Written by: Linda Slater


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