Caw Ridge Mountain Goat Research Project

Project Field Supervisor - Contract - 1989 to 1994

Background

Mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) are the least understood of all North America ungulates, their population dynamics are poorly documented 1.

In the 1980’s, population declines, poor productivity and survival (especially of kids and yearlings) lead to the termination of Alberta's provincial goat harvest in 19882.

In response to concerns over these declines and the lack of information on their basic biology in the province, the Wildlife Division initiated a long-term cooperative research project to study mountain goat population dynamics and individual reproductive success2. Following preliminary work in 1988, the intensive study of one un-hunted goat herd began in June 1989 at Caw Ridge in west-central Alberta 3.

Project Objectives

To assess the status of an un-hunted mountain goat herd with emphasis on identifying the rates, timing and causes of kid mortality. Key program elements included:

Capture and Monitoring

  • Capture, mark individuals for visual identification, ear-tags, visual or radio-collars.
  • Daily intensive ground searches, weekly censuses, telemetry flights as necessary.
  • Age and sex classification of unmarked individuals.
  • Location and recovery of transmitters on mortality.

Assess Key Population Parameters

  • Yearly population totals, pre-kidding (survival), post-kidding (productivity).
  • Productivity, individual reproductive success and survival.
  • Timing and causes of mortality.
  • Immigration and emigration.

Kidding Surveys

  • Yearly, intensive ground surveys, May 20 thru June 5.
  • Timing and locations of parturition (birth), site fidelity.
  • Sex of new kids (ratios), abandonment.

Movements and Habitat Use

  • Identify movement patterns, corridors and critical habitats.
  • Assess forage quality and quantity.
  • Assess the interaction/competition between mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
  • Assess goat response to human use and activity.

Results

The Caw Ridge Mountain Goat Research Project began fieldwork in May of 1989.
Wildlife Technical Services was contracted to coordinate, supervise and conduct the fieldwork portions of the project from startup to completion of Phase 1 in July 1994. The project is still ongoing and is currently in year 22.

Mountain Goat Capture

  • 269 goats captured, 144 marked (73 kids), 59 radio-collared (42 kids) and 125 recaptures.
  • Captures, remote controlled Stevenson box traps or self-tripping clover traps.
  • Goats < 1 year immobilized, kids and yearlings physically restrained.
  • Immobilization, IM injection xylazine/hydrochloride, reversal IM injection idazoxan.
  • Earliest capture date June 10, latest October 5.
  • 57 bighorn sheep captured and marked (39 F, 18 M).

Mountain Goat Population Parameters

  • Population totals varied pre and post kidding and between years.
  • Variation was tied to differences in the sources of mortality and survival.
  • Yearly minimums ranged from 76 – 83, maximums from 85 - 104.
  • Late age of 1st production averaging 4.8 years, 1-3 year old birthing in first 5 years.
  • Kid production averaged 66%.
  • Adult (>2 years) survival averaged 85%, yearling survival 76% and kid survival 61%.
  • Survival to breeding age was very low averaging 29%.
  • Marked females were not fidelic to parturition location.

Kid Monitoring

  • 129 individuals documented and monitored 1989 - 1994.
  • Yearly kid production ranged from a low of 17 to a high of 28 individuals.
  • All surviving kids not captured each year were caught as yearlings.
  • 13 (31%) radio-collared kids died, 11 predation (4 G bear, 4 wolf, 3 cougar), 1 fall, 1 abandonment.

Footnotes

1. Bailey, J.A. 1991. Reproductive success in female mountain goats. Can. J. Zool. 69: 2956-2961.

2. Smith, K.G., Urquhart, M.A. and Festa-Bianchet, M. 1992. Preliminary observations of timing and causes of mountain goat kid mortality in west-central Alberta. In Bienn. Symp. North. Wild Sheep and Goat Coun. 8: 293-304.

3. Festa-Bianchet, M., Urquhart, M.A. and Smith, K.G. 1994. Mountain Goat recruitment: kid production and survival to breeding age. Can. J. Zool, 72, 22-27.