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  • Jere Folgert.

Young, Baby Mountain Goats Appear on the Beartooth Plateau

Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains (Montana / Wyoming)

A High-Altitude Ballet: The Enchanting World of Rocky Mountain Goat Kids

High atop the crags and ridges of the Rocky Mountains, a playful ballet unfolds. A band of young mountain goats, barely past the stage of wobbly-legged youngsters, explore their world with wide-eyed wonder. These nimble creatures, also known as Rocky Mountain kid goats, are the living embodiment of alpine grace.

Clad in a coat of soft, downy fur – a stark contrast to the thick, winter coat their mothers are shedding – they resemble living snowflakes against the rugged backdrop.  Science tells us this downy coat, called a kid coat, is made of guard hairs and a dense undercoat that provides superior insulation in the harsh mountain environment.  As they mature, this coat will be replaced by a coarser outer layer of guard hairs and a woolen undercoat, perfectly adapted to the year-round challenges of their high-altitude home.

Their mothers, known as nannies, are ever-vigilant guardians. With maternal instinct honed by millennia of evolution, nannies are the first line of defense against the mountain's many perils.  Should danger approach, a nanny will lead her charges to safety with remarkable agility, navigating seemingly impossible slopes with a surefootedness that defies gravity.  This ability is thanks, in part, to the unique hooves of mountain goats.  The flexible pads on their hooves can expand and contract to grip even the most precarious rock face, allowing them to traverse treacherous terrain with unmatched confidence.

While these playful youngsters appear carefree, their world is not without threats. Avalanches, sudden and unforgiving, can sweep across the mountainsides, posing a constant danger.  A misstep on a steep cliff could mean a fatal fall.  Predators, such as golden eagles and cougars, lurk in the shadows, seeking a vulnerable young goat.  And the harsh winter months can bring starvation, as food becomes scarce under a blanket of snow.

Despite these challenges, mountain goats have thrived for millennia.  They are not, surprisingly, true goats.  Science classifies them within the Bovidae family, alongside antelopes, gazelles, and even cattle.  More accurately, they are considered goat-antelopes, a fascinating evolutionary convergence that has resulted in creatures perfectly adapted to a life on the edge.

These young mountain goats, with their indomitable spirit and remarkable adaptations, are a testament to the enduring power of life in one of Earth's most unforgiving landscapes.

-By Jere Folgert

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