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Goats: Mountain Goats

Mountain Goat peering
Photo by Parks Connect;
used with permission under CC BY 2.0

The mountain goat is the most mysterious and least domesticated goat species in North America. The thick white fur and powerful legs of the mountain goat allow it to survive in some treacherous conditions that most often include steep rocky slopes that are covered in snow and ice. Mountain goats are extremely strong also, which allows them to move quickly and with (unusual) grace. Obviously, the mountain goat is best known for its ability to climb mountains. Actually, mountain goats are some of the best mountain climbers in the world--with an average climb speed of approximately 500 vertical metres (meaning, uphill) per 20 minutes. Talk about fast!

 

Mountain Goat peering
Photo by Ryan Lafferty at Enchantment Lakes;
used with permission under CC BY 2.0

Both male and female mountain goats have long black horns that they uses to defend themselves against predators and other mountain goats. Male mountain goats have long slender horns that are straight and sharp; whereas female mountain goats have more curved, short, and slender horns. The shape and size of a goat's horn is the best way to tell if it is male or female. If you are lucky enough to get close to a Mountain Goat you can also tell how old a goat is by the number of rings on its horns- the more years the older the goat is!

 

Mountain Goat peering
"Herd on High" by Chris Hobcroft;
used with permission under CC BY 2.0

When not in mating season male mountain goats most often live in solitude or with one or two male companions, where females live in groups as large as 10-15 does, especially after kidding. You are most likely to see mountain goats in the early spring and summer as they come down to the base of their mountainous homes to feed on the recently uncovered plant life that has been exposed by snow melt. By the time the mid to late summer occurs the mountain goats will slowly have made their way back up the mountain as the snow will have melted higher on the mountain at that time.