Introduction to Species
Rocky Mountain Goat, Oreamnos americanus
Many visitors who are fortunate enough to visit the home range of the Rocky Mountain goat experience the grace of this animal as it traverses the home range. Many of us are greeted by these High Country Ambassadors as they stroll through alpine meadows that we share on approaches to climbs.
A gentle demeanor and seemingly easy approachability may present a false assumption that these mammals are not sophisticated or would be easy prey, but in fact the opposite is true. They present a formable opponent when necessary with horns and hooves that are sharp and can be accurately placed if threatened.
Rocky Mountain Goats
Mountain goats are not true goats—but they are close relatives. Mountain goats are stout-bodied animals with a thick coat of white hairs. Both sexes of Mountain goat have pure black horns. The males (billies) horns are longer than the thin female (nannies) horns. The horns are not dropped each fall like other ungulates and continue to grow through their lifecycle.
A distinguishing feature for the Rocky Mountain goat is the rubber-like base of their hooves that enable them to climb steep rock that even the best free climbers would certainly envy.
Their diet 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 communicate through vocalizations during the mating season to attract mates. Aggressive behaviors include arching their backs, aggressive movement of the horns, running towards the threat and a less aggressive form of walking towards a threat. These are example of “bluff threats” as there are rarely injuries associated with these types of behaviors.
The best time for seeing the Rocky Mountain goat is in the late afternoon and early morning. Alpinists frequently encounter shallow bedding depressions that are excavated by the goats using their front feet. These bedding areas are also thought to be useful in removing parasites and shedding hair. In many areas these beds cause concern as they threaten rare and endangered plant populations
The size of groups that might be seen varies throughout the year. Winter and spring tends to offer larger groups as they seek out good winter range and salt licks in the spring. Generally mature billy goats are solitary in the summer and fall.
To see video of Mountain Goats in Glacier National Park in Montana please link to this YouTube video: Mountain Goats.
Rocky Mountain goats live up to 12 to 15 years in the wild. They would live longer but their teeth wear down and this incapacitates them from eating.
When love is in the air, around September in the Northern Hemisphere, males try to join the bands of females. By late October, the females finally decide that the billies can be part of the group and eventually the billies will begin to protect their “band” from other males who also desire to pass on their genes to the next generation. Sometimes fights occur.
Fights between rival males can be extremely violent and often cause serious injury or even death. The billies thrust their horns at each other’s bodies in an attempt to spear the other and cause injury. As with most mammals the victor is given the right to mate and pass on his genes.
After successful mating, gestation of the fetus is 5 to 6 months. Multiple births are not uncommon for nannies. The offspring (kids) are born in May or June. Lambs are born on steep cliffs to protect against predators. Like their neighbors the Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, the lambs stay with the nannies until the birth of the lambs in the next spring.
DistributionThe native range for mountain goats is from southeast Alaska to Washington, western Montana, and central Idaho. Mountain goats, Oreamnos americanus, are native to the northern Rocky Mountains. They have also been introduced to parts of South Dakota, Colorado and Washington.
PredatorsThe mountain goat's main predators are cougars also called mountain lions. This highly developed hunting machine stealthfully moves about the mountains and is a major threat to any living animal including man. Other predators include: bobcats, coyotes, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and golden eagles.
Threats from MankindThe mountain goat’s home range is threatened where human development encroaches on their habitat.
ConservationThe Rocky Mountain goat is currently not in danger thanks to conservation efforts. In states where there is a stable population of mountain goats hunting is used to help control the population.
Continued efforts to gain more knowledge about the Mountain Goats habitat and habits will certainly benefit this species of the Rocky Mountains.