The mountain goat, like the moose
, was introduced deliberately to Colorado, to expand hunting opportunities. The first such introduction was in 1947, when 14 goats were imported from Montana and released in the Collegiate Range. Later, additional mountain goats were obtained from Idaho, South Dakota (from the introduced herd in the Black Hills), and British Columbia.
In 1993 the Colorado Wildlife Commission proclaimed the mountain goat a native species. However, most professional biologists doubt that the animals ever occurred in Colorado naturally. Some early travelers reported goats in Colorado, but none of those reports is absolutely reliable. Side-by-side, mountain goats and bighorn sheep look very different, but from a distance a person might mistake a bighorn female for a goat, because bighorn ewes have prominent, gently curved horns. Even today, visitors to Colorado’s high country often identify bighorn sheep as “mountain goats.” A bone from an extinct species of mountain goat was found in fossil deposits about 800,000 years old in Porcupine Cave, South Park.
With their shaggy white wool coats and black horns, these are beautiful and distinctive animals. Billies range to five feet long and weigh up to 250 pounds; nannies are somewhat smaller. Both sexes have sharp, black horns, six to 12 inches long.
Habitat: They mostly stay in their high mountain range year around, seldom going below treeline, except in severe winter weather.
Diet: Mountain goats eat grasses, mosses, lichens, and some shrubbery. They tend to eat more broad-leafed plants than do bighorn sheep.
Reproduction: Kids are born in May or June after a gestation period of about six months. Twins occur in about a quarter of all births. Usually, half of a local population is yearlings. Because of the mountain goat’s inaccessible habitat, mountain lions are one of their few predators. Rockslides or avalanches probably cause most deaths. Humans harvest 150 to 200 mountain goats in Colorado each year.
By David M. Armstrong
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Environmental Studies Program, University Museum of Natural History
University of Colorado-Bouldermausmann@aol.com