Naturespeak 

B.C.’s best climbers: mountain goats

Whistler Naturalists

During a recent stay at the Powder Mountain Lakeside Lodge (a wilderness resort located approximately 26 kilometres from Whistler at the base of Powder Mountain and Callaghan Mountain), I did a climb up Powder Mountain. After going to the summit, we were having a bit of a break and relaxing on a rock overlooking the Callaghan Valley. As I was enjoying the peace and quiet and the views below, I became aware of movement up on the glacier. It looked like a huge fluffy cloud but after looking through the binnocs I realized it was a very large male mountain goat.

I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised to sight this animal because as we had made our way up, we had spotted what looked like goat droppings along the rocky promontories. They varied in colour from dark grey to black. It was also apparent that some animal had scraped the loose surfaces to make a depression in the rocky flat areas for a bed. They were located in areas with a secure cliff behind them and the view was spectacular.

Mountain goats are remarkable climbers, able to scale extremely steep cliffs with ease. Without doubt, they are the best climbers of all the ungulates in British Columbia, but contrary to some popular accounts, their hooves are not suction cups. They are soft, rough-textured pads on the undersides of their hooves and that gives them more surface friction. The hard keratin edges of the hooves help them cling to narrow rock ledges.

Mountain goats occupy alpine and sub-alpine meadows and steep forested slopes. They are able to live on a wide variety of plant foods and can tolerate deep snow, two qualities which probably account for their widespread distribution throughout the province.

The mating season varies from October to mid-December and it depends partly on latitude. During the rut, the males rub their horn glands on bushes. The male will also paw a depression in the ground, urinate in it, then rub his rear flanks in the wet dirt. Presumably, by covering himself with urine he increases his odour and also advertises his condition to females and rival males. The courting male will approach a female in a crouch, neck extended and nose pointed slightly upward, tongue flicking in and out. The male must use caution approaching the female (what else is new?) as she will threaten him with her sharp horns. When he is close to the female, he will nose her rear and flank, and gently kick her with a front leg (romantic, n'est-ce pas?). If she urinates, the male sniffs her and performs a lip-curl to test her reproductive condition. When the female is in full heat, she stands and allows the male to mount her, and she may even mount the courting male.

The gestation period is 147-178 days. Goats are born in late May and early June.

The age of mountain goats can be determined by counting horn sheath rings. Goats typically live approximately 10-11 years. The main predators are cougars and wolves; occasional predators are bobcat, coyote, wolverine, grizzly bear and black bear. Steep cliffs provide mountain goats with essential security against mammalian predators, although the cliff habitat may be less useful against golden eagles, which sometime prey on young goats.

Keep your eyes open around Whistler for these beautiful all-white or light cream coloured animals with pointed ears, short beard and short black pointed horns. In addition to the Callaghan Valley, potential sighting spots nearby include Rainbow Mountain and Garibaldi Park. There have been numerous sightings along the ridges of the Spearhead Range and a report from Karl Ricker of seven goats at the snout of Overlord Glacier in mid-September. It seems that the population of goats in the Singing Pass area may be recovering from lows in the 1960s, when hunting was still allowed within the park.

Upcoming Events :

Whistler Naturalists Speaker Series - Grizzly Bear Recovery Program for Southwest B.C., Thursday, March 16, 7 p.m. at Millennium Place (admission by donation). How close are grizzly bears to the Whistler valley? What's the grizzly bear recovery project all about? Tony Hamilton has worked with the Ministry of Environment since 1982, to study coastal grizzly and black bears and their response to logging.

Next Upcoming Whistler Naturalists Speaker Series — Life on the Edge: British Columbia’s Mountain Goats, April 27 th . Look for more information in the next upcoming events.

Bird Walks — Meet at the base of Lorimer Road on the first Saturday of each month to view and learn about local birds. Start time is 8 a.m. For more information contact Michael Thompson at 604-932-5010.

Do you have an interest in nature and want to educate others about your favourite flora and fauna — Write your very own NatureSpeak article. For more information contact April McCrum at aprilmccrum@yahoo.ca

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