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Mountain goats have stout-bodies, with a thick coat made up of white hairs with some brown intermixed dorsally (on their backs). The pure black horns are about eight to twelve inches long, rather thin, and present in both sexes. They do not shed these horns, annual growth rings show the increase in horn size each year. The horns of males, however, curve back greater than the females. They are able to jump 12 feet (3.5 meters) in a single leap. This species of the “rock goat” family inhabits remote, steep, and rugged terrain in the wet, coastal areas of Southeast Alaska. They are well-adapted for climbing, with hooves that have hard edges and a soft pad for traction and grip on wet rocks.
Mountain Goat or Dall Sheep?
Mountain Goats have short black horns, long shaggy fur, and a high tolerance for wet coastal habitat. Dall sheep have larger horns with rams having curls, shorter fur, and prefer a more inland and dry habitat.
The degree of sociality of mountain goats varies throughout the year. They tend to form large groups during the winter and concentrate at salt licks in the spring, but they form smaller groups or are solitary in the summer. They are active from sunrise to the middle of the day, and again at dusk. Mountain goats establish dominance hierarchies at a young age, through the playing behavior of kids (young goats). Males are dominant during the breeding season, but non-breeding season hierarchy is unusual. At this time, adult females are dominant, while adult males are subordinate to females and juveniles. Mountain goats dig "bedding depressions" which are 1 to 2 inches deep, where they rest during the middle of the day and night. They also dust bathe in these depressions, possibly to remove parasites or shedding skin/hair.
Although their diet varies throughout the year, it generally consists of grasses, woody plants, mosses, lichens, herbaceous plants, and other vegetation. They get most of their water from their food and year-round snowbanks. Mountain goats also travel many miles in the spring to mineral-rich salt licks.
Before and during breeding season, males compete for females. The do not fight head-to-head but rather stand side-by-side and stab at each other's flanks. Thick skin in this area protects them from serious damage, but deaths have been reported and are usually associated with wounds to the chest, neck, or abdomen. Courtship begins in September when males attempt to join small bands of females (alone or in pairs). In late October, females finally accept the courtship of males. These males become part of a "nursery band". These include a female, her young, and any males who have joined in the pre-rut season. Mountain goat breeding season begins in late November and lasts until early January. Gestation is about 150 to 180 days and one to three kids are born in May to June. The female gives birth on very steep cliffs in her home range to avoid predators. The young are mobile shortly after birth and are are weaned after three to four months, however, they stay with the mother until she gives birth the following year. Males aid in the protection of young when they are a part of a nursery band. Otherwise, the mother is the main source of protection.
Population Status, Threats & Conservation
Scientists are working to learn more about this species, which was not described in literature until 1816. Aerial surveys are conducted to study them, with populations in Alaska thought to be stable overall. Potential dangers to mountain goat survival include over-harvest of nannies and concerns over goat reactions to mountain sport and helicopter activity in their habitat. Nannies do not give birth until they are four years old. This is much older than other ungulate species and causes a slow population growth for this species. In addition, twinning is rare and births are usually single kids. When managing hunting, biologists try to limit the number of nannies taken. Once removed from the herd, it can take years to replace one nanny.
Mountain goat species profile, ADFG
National Geographic, Mountain goat page
Fitch, J., B. Guilliams, W. Mowbray, A. Patton, S. Gloss, K. Francl and E. Ellis. 1999. "Oreamnos americanus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web