White Ghosts High on the Mountain

By Dave Hanks

The winter wind whips the snow from off cliff faces. Mountain Goats appreciate the wind. Wind that uncovers the vegetation on the crags, and allows the beast to remain in its domain. A domain high and inaccessible to would-be predators. Unlike other animals, the goat actually thrives at high altitudes in the snowy season. Their long winter coat allows them to be comfortable at temperatures as low as 50 degrees below zero and in winds up to 100 miles per hour.

Although safe from enemies, they are still at a risk for falls. Goats have a hard outer shell to their hooves but the inner portion is soft. Also, the toes are spread apart to give added grip. The dewclaws, on the back of the foot, give additional stability. These are all adaptations for life at dangerous heights. In spite of this sure-footedness, falling from these heights is their number one killer. I find this bit of data quite interesting and surprising.

Another interesting fact is that it is a female dominated society. The female is the “bully” and this is necessary so she can utilize the best feed while nursing the kids. This nursing period lasts 3 months, at which time weaning occurs. Mating takes place in November and December, and the gestation period is 6 months. Males do not fight, which is another interesting fact about this unusual animal.

At maturity, Mountain Goats can weigh between 150 to 300 pounds with the nannies 15% smaller than the billies. They are not a true goat but are more closely related to the Chamois and Musk Ox.

On rare occasions we have seen goats in Yellowstone, but usually need to be in Canada to really experience them. In summer, you might be lucky enough to get close when they have descended to a “saltlick”. Then it is exciting to be so close to an animal that is usually so inaccessible.

(Climbing the rocky cliff face)