Mountain goats are not true goats at all, but belong to the antelope family. The hooves of mountain goats consist of two toes that can move independently from each other, allowing for its stunning agility on steep terrain. Mountain goats are very muscular animals with well-developed shoulder muscles to give it great climbing strength and aid in its ability to dig for food in winter.
Bears, wolves, eagles, and wolverines are all predators of the mountain goats, especially first-year kids. Much of the mountain goat’s behavior is a strategy to avoid these animals. Climbing on steep, rocky slopes that other animals can’t navigate is their most frequent form of defense. Females travel close behind kids where eagles might try to knock them off their feet. In the end, gravity and avalanches take more mountain goats than any animal seeking prey. Female mountain goats breed for the first time when they are about two years old. Although males are also sexually mature at this time, the older more dominant billies usually do the breeding. Males begin to get ready to rut in November, when they dig urine pits where they can wallow, soil, and scent their coats. During this time, billies spend little time eating and there is an increase in threats to other males as they begin following nannies at a distance. Only when the nannies are in estrus will the billies approach closely. Mating begins with low body stretches, lip curls, and nuzzling by the males. Gestation takes about six months.
Both male and female mountain goats have black shiny horns that grow about 8-12 inches in length. Horns produce annual growth rings that can age the goat: A two-year-old has one ring, a three-year-old has two, and so on. Their fur is thick and long with coarse hollow guard hair that grows nearly eight inches long to keep them warm in the winter.
Up to 5.5 feet (1.6 m).
Up to 3.5 feet (0.9 m) to the shoulder
Males: up to 300 pounds (136 kg). Females: up to 150 pounds (68 kg).
The mountain goat is found among the steep and rugged mountains of northwestern North America from Idaho to Washington, through British Columbia and into Southcentral Alaska. Mountain goat populations are scattered throughout this range and can be found from sea level to elevations over 10,000 feet. In Alaska, mountain goats occur throughout the southeastern Panhandle, and north and west along the coastal mountains to Cook Inlet. Their range extends into the Talkeetna Mountains nearly to Denali National Park.
The mountain goat is a very versatile eater, consuming lichens, ferns, grasses, herbs, shrubs, and deciduous or coniferous trees. In the spring and early summer, they follow the flush of nutritious new growth up hill. By summer, goats usually graze on grasses, lichens and low-growing shrubs in high alpine meadows. Goats move to lower elevations in winter where hemlock and lichen become more prevalent in the diet. Toward the end of winter and beginning of spring, goats in the park work their way down to the intertidal zone. After an impoverished winter diet, they increase their salt and mineral intake by feeding on kelp.
SIGNS OF PRESENCE
Given the high altitude that mountain goats prefer to inhabit in order to avoid predators like bears, wolverines and wolves, mountain goats are nearly impossible for humans to overlap with unless going out of your way to hike to alpine regions. At higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains, mountain goats are going to be seen most frequently by looking up into rocky areas where grasses grow, but large animals will have difficulty reaching. A small rock avalanche is a good indicator of some animal activity higher up the mountainside and a possible sign that a mountain goat is walking above.
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