On Sept. 4, visitors to a popular Canadian hiking trail found the body of a young (154 pound) grizzly bear.
According to an article at livescience.com, park rangers airlifted the carcass so it did not attract predators to the popular trail and to ascertain the cause of death.
Wounds around the neck and armpit at first confused officials.
A necropsy, however, revealed the culprit.
“The forensic necropsy subsequently confirmed that the wounds incurred before death were consistent with the size and shape of mountain goat horns,” David Laskin, a wildlife ecologist at Parks Canada, told local news outlet Rocky Mountain Outlook.
So, a mountain goat killed a grizzly.
When attending my first-ever journalism class in high school, I remember hearing, “Dog bites man is not a story. Man bites dog is the story you’re looking for.”
Well, mountain goat kills grizzly is that kind of story.
Yes, it was not a full-grown grizzly, and a 154-pound female was probably a year-old cub.
But even at that size, they are formidable predators.
While the size of the goat implicated in this interesting predator-prey scenario has not been determined, a mature billy can weigh as much as 300 pounds.
These are big, strong, incredibly agile animals that can flee or fight.
“Regarding the recent article about the mountain goat potentially injuring and killing a grizzly…that’s something you don’t hear about every day,'” said Lee MacDonalds, Operations Coordinator with the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance (RMGA).
“I think the takeaway from that article and information from the biologists is that mountain goats (like any large animal, not just predators) have the potential to injure and even kill human-size animals.”
RMGA’s mission is to conserve mountain goat populations and educate the public about these beautiful and unique animals.
“Every year, there are reports of large ungulates in parks injuring humans when they push too close and prompt a defense response. Mountain goats are no different and should be respected,’ MacDonalds said.
“Here in Montana, we have partnered with Montana, Fish Wildlife & Parks, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to have laminated signs at trailheads in mountain goat areas, helping to warn people not to approach them should they run into one. “
Along with wild sheep, mountain goats represent the best of the American West’s wildlife.
Able to live at the highest elevations and easily move across rocky terrain that few can navigate, they are creatures worthy of our admiration.
And any ungulate that can kill a grizzly in defense is worthy of our respect.
It’s great that a group like RMGA exists to forward the cause of mountain goat conservation.
And this story getting out is a good thing as well.
Maybe it will remind hikers, campers, and others who too often view wild animals on public land as wayward pets to give mountain goats a wide berth.
They might not take too kindly to any attempt to take a selfie with them.
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A desert bighorn ram crossed the steep, rocky opening with incredible ease.
I had struggled to quietly get within photo range without slipping and falling to my death for longer than I would like to admit. The ram, however, crossed through a much more treacherous spot with impunity-in seconds.
Seeing their ability to survive and thrive in such habitat is one of the things that draws men to seek out wild sheep-whether with a camera, rifle or bow and arrow.
And Jan. 15-17, thousands of sheep enthusiasts gathered in Reno, NV. at the annual Sheep Show hosted by The Wild Sheep Foundation.
It was my first time attending and I came both as a fan of wild sheep and a wildlife journalist wanting to get the story on what makes this group of people tick.
The fan was satisfied as soon as I walked through the doors of the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.
Anyone into wild sheep would be impressed with incredible wild sheep taxidermy displays and hundreds of booths ranging from outfitters specializing in argali hunts in Tajikistan to Colorado’s grass-roots Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society.
A melanistic desert bighorn taken in Mexico was of particular interest as well as a mountain-style display of wild sheep and goats from Asia.
Sheep hunting is not for the out of shape was evidenced by conversations with outfitters who start some of their hunts at upwards of 12,000 feet.
And it’s not for the out of work either.
While lottery-style draw permits gives the working-class man access to sheep hunting, much of it is a wealthy man’s game.
But that has come as a benefit to wild sheep.
Whereas whitetail deer can pay for themselves through standard hunting licenses fees due to their huge distribution and strong populations, sheep can’t survive through that model.
Auctioning off a portion of tags to wealthy hunters at banquets like those held at the Sheep Show funds a huge part of wild sheep conservation efforts. And whereas whitetail need studying and observation, sheep need an entirely different level of management.
Moving sheep from areas with high population densities to low and making sure they do not co-mingle with domestic sheep that can pass on the deadly pathogen M. ovi is incredibly expensive.
Without groups like The Wild Sheep Foundation which according to president Gray Thornton spent more than $6 million on conservation efforts in 2019 along with regional groups like the Texas Bighorn Society and Alaska Wild Sheep Foundation, sheep would be in real trouble.
Tags at these auctions regularly go more than $100,000 and some coveted tags like those for Montana’s giant rams have fetched more than $400,000.
The hunters with that kind of coin could easily hunt big rams with outfitters who have tags and spend less. But these hunters believe in conservation and don’t mind spending to make it happen.
The most impressive part of the event came at the beer reception for the Less Than One Club. It’s a subgroup of The Wild Sheep Foundation for members who have never taken a wild sheep.
More than 2,000 people attended this year’s event, shattering the previous record and showing an incredible diversity of people.
I’m a member and despite having traveled and written all over North America have never taken a sheep.
Neither had the lifelong sheep biologist who I sat with or the 28-year-old girl I met who dreamed of sheep hunting. Virtually very income level, background, ethnicity and state in the union was represented and everyone was truly excited.
And although I don’t have official demographics, I estimate a third of that room was 35 years and younger and half under 45. In the hunting world those are impressive numbers and they show hope for the future of wild sheep.
Enthusiasm for these great animals is not limited by age, income bracket or location. It’s universal to those who have somehow found a fascination with wild sheep.
Three Dall sheep hunts were given away that night in draws that had everyone on their edge of their seats. Asian ibex hunts were given away for the international component of this unique club that everyone in the room inherently wants to be disqualified from.
The day after the show, I drove seven-hour span from Reno to Las Vegas to attend the SHOT Show on behalf of Texas Fish & Game magazine. It was an incredible drive through stunning country with frequent “Bighorn Crossing” signs.
I had learned about a tract of public land with a good sheep population and hoped I would be able to photograph my first sheep in Nevada and by God’s grace and good information there was the sheep at the beginning of this story.
I could not help but think back to the Sheep Show and wonder if this beautiful, young ram would even be here without the love of those in the sheep-hunting community.
Just as I decided to head back down as not to spook the ram, he made his way down toward me.
He stopped about 75 yards away, highlighted perfectly by the brilliant desert sun and essentially posed while looking right at me. I could now make out a tag in his ear with a very easily identifiable number.
This ram had at some point been captured, documented and maybe even moved from another area to here.
That kind of management doesn’t come cheap and it does not come without people who believe in wild sheep management like the Nevada Department of Wildlife and The Wild Sheep Foundation.
The beautiful creature turned and headed back up the slope, this time journeying to the peak and over.
I left Nevada with great hope for the future of sheep and sheep hunting thanks to the Sheep Show and a deeper curiosity about Nevada and it’s three varieties of wild sheep.
The blessing of have numerous media platforms is the ability to get conservation messages on mountain wildlife out to a diverse group of people.
When a Texas Fish & Game columnist was not able to turn in a column due to an emergency, I used the space to the readership informed on mountain goat conservation and the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance.
Mountain goats are truly fascinating creatures who deserve more attention from hunters and those who simply enjoy seeing wildlife.
We will be doing more on mountain goats and other mountain wildlife through a series of expeditions as well as continual communication with the top people at the private, state, tribal and federal level of wildlife management.
Read this article in the Nov. 2019 edition of Texas Fish & Game and don’t forget to check out the podcast with Pete Muennich, founder of the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance we posted here a couple of weeks ago.