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Mountain goat attacks and other anomalies

Do we usually think of mountain goats as dangerous animals?  Should we put up signs for these goats like I see here in grizzly country, with warnings for hikers to carry pepper spray even when grizzlies aren’t in the environment?

Do we need signs like these for all wildlife?

Today I was at the museum where I volunteer in their natural history lab.  My boss, the assistant curator said “Rocks would have been a good defense.  He should have thrown some rocks.  I always carry one or two when I hike.”  My boss is a seasoned veteran of wildlife, a lifelong hunter and student of nature.

The truth is there are plenty of wild animals that get aggressive given their mood and circumstance.  I’m more wary of moose than mountain lions, or of bison than bears.  Elk or deer in rut can be mighty crazy and aggressive.  Carrying ‘bear spray’ in general is a good idea.  Some people like to carry a gun when they go out.

We don’t really live with wildlife any more.  They are around, mostly in the shadows around cities and suburbs.   Or, when hikers go out in the national forests and National Parks, most trails are so crowded with people we don’t give large wildlife a second thought.  In general, most of us are more aware and know how to handle ourselves in questionable neighborhoods in cities than in the outdoors.  I certainly have more confidence using an ATM in a bad neighborhood than I do in carrying myself and being alert in nature .  In fact, most of the time when I hike with friends in areas other than grizzly country, we all fall into a chatty and fairly unconscious socializing mood.

Living close to Yellowstone, where no hunting has occurred for over 100+ years, animals large and small are easily visible from the road.  And lots of incidents occur every year.  I don’t think it’s because those people forget these are wild animals, I think it’s because they have no idea what is a right relationship to wildlife.

For instance, one early May in the Lamar, the valley looked like the Serengeti, with lots of predators and prey visible.  I watched a wolf fishing in the Lamar river about 100 feet down a hillside from the road.  There were several people watching from the road while this wolf caught a fish, then carried it over to a sand bar a bit further from the road in order to eat it.  A tourist just had to have a better photo, so he ran down the hillside and attempted to cross the shallow river, scaring the wolf away.  Rules say to stay 100 yards from a wolf.  This man was attempting to get within 25 feet!

In that case the wolf ran away and I thought:  this wolf can’t go have lunch at a fast food restaurant like this tourist can.  That man was interfering with this wolf’s opportunity to eat.

So what is the problem here?  The problem is that wildlife have become so abstracted from our everyday existence that they are an oddity, a rarity, something quite out of the ordinary.  And unless we’re wildlife biologists or have made a career of studying animals like my boss at the Draper, most animals are living creatures that we don’t really understand anymore, can’t read their signs and moods, nor can we read our own instincts of what is dangerous and how to defend ourselves in the natural world.  As a culture, as a people, we are several hundred years out of time.

One Response

  1. I read that a park ranger, for goodness sake, had been picking at the mountain goat by throwing bean bags at it. Poor thing was probably just fed up! That’s what happens with any kind of bullying. Usually the wrong people pay for the thoughtlessness of others.


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