Look way, way up, and then be patient.
There is another world evolving and surviving on the mountain faces and hillsides, especially between Princeton and Keremeos, if you just know how to see it.
And it’s made up of goats.
Danny Coyne is the B.C. regional representative for the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance, charged with conservation efforts for Mountain Goat populations in B.C. and across North America.
He spends at least 100 hours a year observing, counting and photographing goats, following their migrations, checking on food sources, watching for illness, and promoting protective strategies for the area’s herds.
It’s a labour of love.
“Do we realize how spoiled we are? There are not many places in the world where there are hillsides that have Mountain Goats, Mountain Sheep, elk, White Tail Deer, Mule Deer and even bears. We are pretty lucky to live where we live.”
There are between 75,000 and 134,000 Mountain Goats living in North America, with approximately half of those in B.C.
Goats are not endangered, however, the province considers them a top priority for conservation, to prevent the species and its ecosystem from becoming at risk.
In the Similkameen “we’ve got a very strong population of goats. We haven’t had this many goats on the landscape, to our knowledge, for a very long time,” said Coyne.
Goat populations are vulnerable in many ways. They are not prolific breeders. Only 40 per cent of nannies reproduce.
The females “are picky,” laughed Coyne.
“Nannies are very aggressive to billies. A lot of billies will actually get gorged during the rut…They swing those horns like daggers.”
They are, however, very protective mothers. “They have a great bond with their kids… That nanny and that kid relationship – they are tight on each other. Where she goes that kid is right behind her or underneath her.”
One of the most dangerous predators to goats are eagles, particularly Golden Eagles, said Coyne.
“They swarm it to make it fall down a cliff.”
Nannies shield their babies with their own bodies and try to tuck them into crevices to keep them safe.
Winter is hard on goats, Coyne says.
In season, they eat grass, and are particularly fond of sunflowers.
“(However) the survival rate on the kids is very low over winter months, due pretty much to starvation. It takes a lot for a goat to get to the age of four.”
In winter goats make treacherous journeys up and down the mountains in search of mineral-rich rocks to lick for sustenance.
Disease is another threat, Coyne explained.
Goats are susceptible to MOVI, a bacterium that leads to respiratory disease and pneumonia and is spread by domestic sheep.
“It’s almost like COVID to animals…Farmers who have domestic sheep who are not taking care of them, if their animal goes out and grazes on grass and a wild animal comes along and grazes, it’s highly contagious.”
Coyne said overall farmers and ranchers have significantly improved their practices that allow goats and sheep to graze, while back country recreation seekers – especially Heli-skiers and helicopters – pose a growing danger.
There is a Limited Entry Hunt for Mountain Goats, which is a positive thing, he added.
“The harvesting of a billy can actually put things back in balance for a herd.”
Hunting fees also fund the biological and environmental research that supports healthy goat populations.
“People eat them. They are very good eating. (Hunters) definitely want the mount, but there is also the economical part of it. If a guide sells a goat tag anywhere in the province that money is drawn back in…It’s a good source of revenue. Without hunters hunting on the landscape, we are not going to have biologists.”
Everyone can play a role in supporting the experts.
“I would love to get our communities more involved,” said Coyne.
The B.C. Wildlife Program is asking for public observations of Mountain Goats, Thinhorn Sheep and Bighorn Sheep from around B.C. via the Mountain Goat and Wild Sheep Natal App.
The app allows conservationists and members of the public to easily submit what they see. The data collected will be used to inform B.C.’s regional biologists when making important decisions around wild sheep and goat conservation, as well as provide information on the effects of changing climates and other environmental and human pressures on the wild sheep and goat populations.
And that, of course, means people need to know how to spot them.
“I guess patience is the biggest thing,” said Coyne.
From the road, they will look like white dots, just part of the landscape.
“Once you see one, pull over. Bring a pair of binoculars and a lawn chair. Look on the ledges. Even though they are white they are very good at blending in.”
Coyne has counted 38 goats in one day, looking from Princeton.
“We all have to be stewards of our wildlife and habitat and care about those goats…That’s the way we should be living with wildlife.”
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