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Mountain Goats

Mountain goats are native to the Cascade Mountains. They are the original mountaineers with stocky, muscular builds, legs that are short and placed closely together. They can navigate terrain that humans simply should never consider! They also have thick white coats perfect for protecting them from the elements in winter and high elevation. Mountain Goats are social animals and can often be found traveling in small bands of males, females and juveniles. Fun fact--Mountain Goats aren't actually goats at all! They are actually members of the Antelope family. Who knew???


Mountain Goats can typically be found in the rocky crags of high alpine areas along the crest of the Cascades, often at elevations high and technical enough that predators can't follow. They survive due to the thick coats (dense, hollow hair and woolly sub-fur that retains heat and repel wind and water) and their seasonal herbivorous diet. In winter they descend into lower elevations into forested cliff areas. 


Although mountain goats typically keep to themselves, they can learn to approach humans through repeat exposure over time. Often when people visit Mountain goat habitat via alpine hiking trails and climbing routes, some unknowingly train the Mountain Goats to seek out humans. Many hikers and climbers urinate along the trail, leaving behind salt and minerals that Mountain Goats seek out. Mountain Goats' ability to get essential vitamins and minerals in their diet is limited in their ability to find alpine vegetation in early summer when new growth shows itself. Unfortunately, it is still fairly low in sodium and necessary minerals so many mountain goats look for other sources, and particularly as the season passes. When Goats drawn to humans for access to salt and minerals become used to interacting with people and they lose their natural avoidance response. This might seem nice for folks looking to view Mountain Goats, but when goats become persistent, approaching and following humans too closely, they can become dangerous. Although mountain goats may seem mild mannered, they are aggressive with each other, using their sharp horns in such interactions. Habituation to people can yield a highly dangerous situation, with goats using their horns to injure, and in extreme cases, even kill people. In 2010, a hiker in Olympic National Park died from an encounter with an aggressive mountain goat – thought to be the first such incident in Washington State.

WDFW recommends avoiding behavior in mountain goat habitat that might encourage habituation, and encourages behavior to help return already-habituated goats to their natural wariness of humans.

Signs of Mountain Goats

Goats shed their thick winter coats in the spring and often leave large clumps of white hair on tree branches and shrubs near tree lines. Look for rubbings on trees. Both male and female Mountain Goats rub trees with their horns throughout the season and males create rut pits in the spring where they urinate and roll during mating season. Oval-shaped Mountain Goat beds can often be found on exposed ridge tops and cliff ledges. 

Where to locate Mountain Goats in Washington State

Sources: Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, North Cascades National Park Service, Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, Washington Geospatial Open Data Portal 

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