Mountain goats are fascinating animals. They may look silly with their long faces and sometimes out-of-control horns — but don’t let their funny traits fool you. These amazing survivors can climb the steepest slopes and live off practically nothing.
When one particular group of mountain goats ended up somewhere they didn’t belong, the environment and its inhabitants suffered. Desperate for their next fix, these goats became addicted to something very strange and potentially dangerous…
In September 2018, those who found themselves near Olympic National Park may have seen a rather strange occurrence: goats dragged through the sky in orange backpacks by helicopter. But the reason why these goats were being removed was even stranger than the sight itself.
Olympic National Park is a nature reserve near Port Angeles, Washington. The park has four basic regions: the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, the west side temperate rainforest, and the forests of the drier east side. It’s a popular spot for boating, camping, and of course, mountain climbing.
In recent years, the park’s visitors have been harassed by Mountain goats — though they’re not entirely to blame. The goats were first put there by a hunting group in the 1920s, and since they had almost no natural predators in the park, their population grew quickly.
In their natural habitat, the goats tend to lick salt rocks in order to hold water in for a longer time, but those aren’t found in Olympic Park. This means that in their new territory, they had to resort to other methods to get their salty fix.
When a mountain goat is having really “baaaahd” salt cravings, they turn to the only other animal that carries salt in their body: humans. Hiding behind the rocks and trees, the goats practically stalk their prey and prepare to seriously invade their personal bubble…
The goats usually run up to the tourists, unafraid of them, and begin licking their exposed skin to get a nice taste of their salty sweat. However, it doesn’t stop there. When a hiker decides to go number one behind a bush, the goats are ready to pounce and drink it up. Yum!
Sadly, what might sound like a funny quirk had serious consequences for hikers like Robert H. Boardman, a 63-year-old local from Port Angeles. He set out to hike the National Park with his wife and their friend in 2010, but never made it back.
Eventually, authorities discovered that a mountain goat had attacked Boardman with its horns and hooves, and would not let anyone else get near him. Boardman was eventually retrieved and taken to a hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
As a result of this tragedy, the National Park Service rangers got to work tackling the problem and warning park visitors. Along with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Forest Service, they came up with a 3-5 year plan to remove the goats from the park.
They decided that some of the goats will be sedated, blindfolded, and airlifted out of Olympic National Park, and then placed into a different nature reserve. Others would be lifted out in fancy orange bodysuits, and the rest will get their own crate.
The plan is to capture roughly half of the 700 goats within the park and safely transport them to the snowier North Cascade Mountains, where they are a native species.
Ruth Milner, who has been studying mountain goats with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for decades, has stated that moving the goats to the North Cascades is a “win-win.” Why? Well, because the population of goats in the Cascades could actually use an increase.
However, environmental sciences Professor David Wallin from Western Washington University is skeptical. “This translocation effort isn’t going to solve the problem, but we figure we can move 300 to 400 goats over and that’s a 10 percent bump in the population [in the North Cascades]. Our hope is that will help jump-start the recovery.”
The goats who aren’t getting on a first class flight to the Cascades are being moved by refrigerated trucks to keep the thick-furred rascals cool on their way to their new old home.
The goats who still remain are being made to wear tracking devices so the rangers and the departments can stay on top of their whereabouts in Olympic National Park. If one were to attack again, they’ll know exactly which goat is to blame.
Those who have been seen acting aggressively or who may be injured or ill, are sadly being marked to be put down. This is not only to protect the visitors of Olympic National Park, but also the other animal species in the North Cascades.
To keep things somewhat natural, the slain Goats are left in the park to provide food for scavengers. These carcasses will be placed far away from any hiking trails or other popular spots out of safety for the visitors.
“We saw the ecosystem bounce back,” said Patti Happe, a wildlife biologist at the park. “When you get a group of goats hanging out in an area they move around and trample the soil and fragile vegetation. They also form these wallows and create big patches of exposed soil, and with erosion, they get bigger and bigger.”
The story of the goats gone wild has received a lot of attention in September of 2018. NPR had interviewed several experts on the issue, and the story even made the front page of the Seattle Times.
The mountain goat problem is not one with an easy or quick fix, and the goats will be transported until at least 2019 and monitored for much longer. Hopefully, this will lead to less out-of-hand altercations with hikers. Please give these goats some salt to lick!
Did you have any idea that mountain goats could possibly be so dangerous?
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