I have been learning about mountain goats, lately. For instance, mountain goats, Oreamnos americanus, are not goats at all, but relatives of antelope. OK, I already knew that, but I have learned a lot of other tidbits in recent weeks.
Why my sudden fascination with mountain goats? I am interested and I do want to learn, but I will admit in this case it was because of an all-hands-on-deck project.
For weeks, staff has been diligently researching species living at the preserve as we try to develop interesting and informative interpretive panels. I think each of us, regardless of our previous knowledge, has learned new and interesting facts about the mammals living on-site.
I was assigned mountain goats, thinhorn sheep and moose, and tasked with a long list of questions to either answer or confirm. It was such a great project, and I discovered and re-discovered fascinating facts about each of these animals. For instance, I knew that moose liked water, but I did not know that they could dive more than five metres or swim 19 kilometres.
Prior to arriving at the preserve, I did not know a great deal about mountain goats (I’m from the east), but I immediately loved them. I love their shaggy, woollen coats – especially their pants and their beards, which I find hilarious. I also love how they shed their winter coat – in patches from their heads, to their shoulders, legs and, lastly, from the rump, which makes them seem lopsided for much of the summer.
I find the babies adorable and was surprised by how infrequently twins are born (only about 25 per cent of the time). Logical, given the harsh habitat, but easy to forget when 10 of the 12 kids born this summer at the preserve were twins.
It is amazing how quickly kids navigate the steep, craggy cliffs called home. They appear so sure-footed and acclimatized, it was sad to learn that accident, weather and predators claim more than half of them before their first birthday.
I was also intrigued to learn that mountain goats are matriarchal. Except for during mating season, females dominate males, and nannies use their horns to keep billies in line. This, almost certainly, explains why adult males are solitary and keep to themselves for the rest of the year.
I think, like most people, any reference to the rut leads to thoughts about antlers, sparring and bugling. I have learned that mountain goats have several curious rutting behaviours worthy of their own admiration, and I am now intent on watching more closely come November.
To attract a nanny, billies sit on their haunches like a dog and paw on the ground, covering their flanks and bellies with dirt. They posture and they mark vegetation with fluid from glands found behind their horns.
I have also learned that goats are not without romance, in a manner of speaking. To initiate a courtship, a billy will crouch and approach the nanny from behind, giving her a quick kick to the flank. Now, who wouldn’t find that romantic?
Krista Prochazka loved the Yukon Wildlife Preserve so much that she made her family move to the Yukon to become executive director of the preserve. Contact her at [email protected]