Visitors to Glacier National Park in Montana were in for a surprise this week when a mountain goat decided to show off its climbing skills. But it wasn't a craggy cliff face where the goat decided to take in some sun … it was the roof of the park's Logan Pass Visitor Center!
It's pretty easy to see in the photo that the goat is sporting a radio collar. That's because National Park Service (NPS) biologists, together with researchers from the University of Montana and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, are nearing the end of a three-year study on mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) movements. In particular, they want to know how these ungulates are faring with the roads and hiking trails that carve up their territories, and how park visitors might affect their behaviour. While only 20-25 goats will have been collared by the end of the study, their movements are thought to be indicative of the park's 1500 individuals.
The study was motivated in part by visitor crowding in the popular Logan Pass area, part of the "Going to the Sun" road corridor. As NPS investigates strategies for expanding access to the area to alleviate traffic and crowding, they want to know how wildlife use the landscape. By understanding wildlife movements in Logan Pass, officials can create a plan to maximise animal welfare, as well as visitors' enjoyment of and access to the park.
Last summer, the biologists began to notice some differences between goats that had become used to humans, or habituated, and those that had not. The habituated goats were more likely to use meadows and roads to move around and look for food, while the shyer ones were more often found near cliffs and ledges, only occasionally moving into meadows.
As the project moves forward, the researchers will continue to assess the goats' habitat usage, but they're also going to see whether the habituated goats have come to rely on humans as a means of avoiding predators, a tactic called the "human shield effect."
Maybe that explains why a mountain goat decided to hang out on the visitor centre roof?
Top header image: J. Stephen Conn/Flickr