What’s That Scat?

What’s That Scat?

What’s That Scat?

4 minute read.
As we are out enjoying some of the many trails the Yukon has to offer, we often have to watch our step to make sure we’re not putting our boots in something smelly! These unexpected trail obstacles can be great indicators of whose habitat we are walking into, what they are eating, and how they are digesting it. Just like us, many animals have dynamic diets, and will eat what is available. Scat can be interesting but can also spread diseases, even to humans, so it should be looked at and not touched, especially by our furry companions.

Bears

Black bears are opportunistic omnivores who will eat whatever food they can find, including fish, fruit, meat, insects, and herbs and grasses. Grizzlies have a similar diet, but tend to favour high-energy meat and insects more than the smaller black bears. Like their diets, bear scat appearance is quite varied, and often contains fragments of their last meal, like seeds, bits of berries, or small animal bones. Wildlife Interpreter Maureen recounts seeing a landscape covered in red wine-coloured piles that were actually scat from grizzlies that had eaten a lot of cranberries!

Light brown bear scat with seeds visible.

Bears are relatives of mammalian carnivores, they have a digestive system similar to carnivores, without a cecum or extended large intestine. This limits how efficiently they can process leafy plant material and they must eat a lot if they are relying on these foods, which is common in the spring. As a result, when a bear eats a lot of plant material their scat often has a green tinge from the undigested grasses or a fibrous appearance. Typically, their scat is brown or black and tapered, though sometimes it can appear as more globular if it is loose. Grizzly scat tends to be a bit wider and larger piles than black bear scat. It can be hard to distinguish between the two, but both should make a hiker cautious of the trail ahead. Remember bear spray and noisemakers and stay bear safe!

Left to right: Older bear scat; bear scat that is darker brown in colour with grasses visible.

If you’re interested in getting involved in bear research, the Operation Ursus Research using Scat (OURS) project is aimed at estimating the Yukon grizzly and black bear populations using DNA available in bear scat. Lucile leads the study and shares the project story Bear Poo and You with YWP.

Canines

Foxes, wolves, and coyotes are more exclusively carnivorous than bears, but may occasionally eat berries and seeds. Their digestive system is similar to that of a bear, as is their scat. Wolves’ stomachs are specially adapted to hold a lot of food so that after a hunt they can get their share of the reward. Additionally, their stomach is very acidic to kill off any pathogens in the meat. It is tubular and tapered and may contain bits of bones, fur, or berries. It may be lighter, as it varies from tan to dark brown in colour. It is, however, smaller than bear scat: fox scat is about 1.25 cm in diameter, coyote scat is about 2 cm, and wolf scat is usually at least 2.5 cm in diameter.

Wolf scat with fur visible.

There will likely be much less of it as well. Foxes often defecate in obvious areas to mark their territory. The Wildlife Preserve exists as an ecosystem within a larger ecosystem and foxes are one of the many wild animals that visit. They seem to like to use the boardwalks at the front cabin to do their business!

Foxes often defecate in obvious places to mark their territory.

Left photo credit: L.Caskenette.

Feline – Lynx

Unlike generalist bears and canines, lynxes are specialists. Snowshoe hares are their primary food source, and can make up 75% of their winter diet. Meat is highly digestible, meaning that most of what is consumed can be broken down and absorbed easily. Lynx digestive systems, therefore, have shorter small intestines relative to body size and less developed caecum than canines.

Lynx scat of varying ages among grass.

Their scat is black, tubular and tapered, and does not have so much undigested material as the bears or canines. It is also very smelly. Like a house cat, they will cover their scat with dirt or snow, probably to hide their presence from nearby animals. Also like house cats, they often defecate in the same latrine over and over, which can be seen in our lynx habitat.

Lynx, like house cats, often poop in the same places every time. This is one of the latrines in the lynx habitat at the Preserve.

Cervids

The Yukon has a great variety of cervids (antler bearing animals) or members of the deer family. Their diets, digestive systems, and scat have many similarities. In general, they produce uniform, dark brown or black oval-shaped pellets, which result from uniform movements of smooth muscles in the large intestine and its sphincters.

From left to right: Caribou, moose, mule deer and elk. Photo Credit: L.Caskenette & J.Paleczny.

Their diets are often high in fibrous, dry tree materials like leaves and twigs, which is why their feces forms pellets. If they are eating more grasses, in the summer, it may appear softer and more clumpy. Cervids are all ruminants which means that their stomachs have four compartments: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum.  This allows for fermentation by bacteria and other processes that break down vegetation. This is part of the reason that cervid scat does not have as much undigested material as the carnivores’, despite their plant diet having less digestible material. In addition, they will regurgitate their food and chew it again, also called chewing their cud!

Left to Right: Soft caribou scat clumps together versus caribou scat in pellet form.

Deer pellets are small, about 1 cm in diameter, and are left in piles of many pellets. They defecate an average of 13 times per day! Elk scat is similar but 1-1.5 cm in diameter, and moose scat is even larger at 1.5-2 cm in diameter. Deer and elk pellets are rounder than moose pellets.

Softer deer scat often clumps together as seen here.

Moose are more strictly browsers, that eat only tree materials, so mostly their pellets are harder. Caribou scat appears somewhat more rough than deer or moose scat. It is often in harder pellet form in the winter when they eat a lot of lichens and sedges. In the summer, when their diet switches to grasses and vegetation with a high moisture content, their scat often forms larger soft clumps.

Moose scat in pellet form, darker brown because it’s older.

Bovids

There are also a wide variety of bovids (horn bearing animals) in the Yukon. Our mountain sheep, mountain goats, muskox, and bison are all ruminants, just like the cervids. They are all herbivores who eat a variety of grasses, sedges, seedlings, and leaves.

Left to Right: Muskox, bison, mountain goat, thinhorn sheep. Photo Credit: L. Caskenette

Muskox, mountain goats, and thinhorn mountain sheep also form pellet scat, even when their diets consist largely of grass. That’s because their digestive tracts are highly evolved to reabsorb as much water as possible, likely an adaptation to their arid alpine (goats and sheep) and tundra (muskox) habitats.

Sheep scat forms pellets.

Goats have varied diets that includes browse, shrubs, lichens, grasses, and even trees. Their alpine foraging sites may be sparse, which doesn’t allow them to be picky eaters. Muskoxen eat grasses, forbs (herbaceous flowering plants), and willows, which they often have to dig out from the frozen arctic ground by smashing the permafrost with their heads and pawing the ice pieces out of the way. Mountain sheep eat mostly grasses and some other low growing sedges.

Muskox scat.

Bison scat is distinct from all the other ruminants mentioned above, because it forms an indistinct pile. Their diet is also primarily grasses and other low-lying herbaceous plants, but they may eat some willows and twigs. Grasses would make their scat more loose, but we’re taking suggestions for what makes their scat so different from the other grass-loving bovids!

Bison patty.

Hopefully after hearing all of these scat facts you can see scat as more than just something gross to be avoided on the side of the trail. It can tell you who’s habitat you are in, but also what they have been eating. It is interesting to watch it change throughout the season. Of course biologists may be able to find out way more about an animal through their scat, for instance genetic samples or presence of pathogens. There is so much to learn from the scat around us!
Although all the different scat we explored above is only a small number of animals, all species do it and we encourage you to:

1. Explore other species scat/defecation/poop – whatever you want to call it!

2. Pack out yours and your furry companions (yours domestic canines) poo in the backcountry and wilderness places you visit!

3. Sing the Scat Rap Song!  

It starts with an S and it ends with a T
It comes out of you
and it comes out of me
I know what you’re thinking
But don’t call it that
Let’s be scientific, and call it SCAT
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

You can find it on the ground
It’s usually colored brown
It is shaped in a mound
It is a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

You can smell it with your nose
It’s gonna decompose
It’s where the fungus grows
It is a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

Birds flying through the air
Look out! Beware!
It landed in your hair
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I was hiking through the fog
When I saw a big log
It came from a dog
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I was tired of TV
I was checking out the trees
I could smell it on the breeze
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I know it’s kind of gory
But it’s a true story
It marks territory
It is a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I picked up a chicken
And something was drippin’
It wasn’t finger-lickin’
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

A squirrel ate a nut
Digested in its gut
It came out of its butt
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

If you park your car
By the woods or a field
You might find something on your windshield
Full of berries
Both purple and white
You just got bombed by a bird in flight
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

Photo Credit: Sophia Slater or as otherwise credited.
References:

Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) sign. ADFG. 

Blood, D.A. Mountain sheep. Hinterlands Who’s Who. 

Blood, D.A. (2000). Mountain Goat in British Columbia. British Columbia Ministry of Environment Land and Parks.

Bosch, G., Hagen-Plantinga, E., & Hendriks, W. (2015). Dietary nutrient profiles of wild wolves: Insights for optimal dog nutrition? British Journal of Nutrition, 113(S1), S40-S54. doi:10.1017/S0007114514002311

Keith, L.B. Canada lynx. Hinterland’s Who’s Who. 

Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center (2018, June 25). What scat can tell you about your wildlife neighbors. CSERC

Costello, C.M., Cain, S.L., Pils, S., Frattaroli, L., Haroldson, M.A., & van Manen, F.T. (2016). Diet and macronutrient optimization in wild Ursids: A comparison of grizzly bears with sympatric and allopatric black bears. PLoS ONE, 11(5).

Gray, D.R. Muskox. Hinterland’s Who’s Who. 

Hatch, K., Roeder, B., Buckman, R., Gale, B., Bunnell, S., Eggett, D., Auger, J., Felicetti, L., & Hilderbrand, G. (2011). Isotopic and gross fecal analysis of American black bear scats. Ursus, 22(2), 133–140. 

Howard, W.T., Hutjens, M., Kilmer, L., Linn, A., Otterby, D., & Shaver, R. (2021). The ruminant digestive system. University of Minnesota Extension

Winand, C.J. (2008, September). Deer Pelletology. Buckmasters Magazine

Sophia Slater

Sophia Slater

Wildlife Interpreter & Animal Care Assistant

Sophia is one of the Interpretive Wildlife Guides and animal care assistants at the Preserve. She is new to the Yukon and moved here from Ontario, where she just graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Nipissing University. Hiking mountains is her newfound passion while she’s here, and she’s hoping to summit as many as she can this summer. At the preserve, she loves getting to talk to and learn from guests who come from all over the Yukon and beyond about their experiences with wildlife.

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Mountain Slopes – Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Mountain Slopes – Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Mountain Slopes – Yukon Wildlife Preserve

11 min read –
The Yukon Wildlife Preserve features eleven iconic northern animal species, but if you look closely at each of the three primary habitats on the Preserve you’ll see many more species than “only” eleven. The three primary habitats include: grasslands, wetlands and mountain slopes. Each of these habitat types support animal and plant species that have evolved together over millions of years resulting in communities where they all make a living and contribute different values to the continuing health of their specific habitat. In this three-part series we’ll review each habitat and examine the greater community it represents, concluding with mountain slopes.

Mountain goats on their cliff habitat at Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Looking around the local landscape we easily see the topographic differences near to us and in the distance. These elevational changes of the geography influence how animals move, reproduce and make a living. Some have evolved physical adaptations providing them with advantages to live in different habitats compared to other species.

Some creatures have evolved to live on the rock faces of mountainsides, while others are better equipped to live in the valleys often near rivers and other water bodies. Some other species can live easily on all land types, like the Caribou that often travel great distances over all types of terrain along their migration paths.

 Caribou often travel great distances over all types of terrain along their migration paths.

The land all around us is in a continual state of change as it has been since time began. The Preserve is located within the Takhini River Valley. The river is south of us, only a few hundred meters away. Glaciers filled this valley up until about thirteen thousand years ago. While they were here, the glaciers altered the landform in some very dramatic ways as they bulldozed great areas of soil and rock, gravel and forested areas resulting in what we can see today. Look at the mountain tops across the valley and you’ll see the smooth rounded tops where the glaciers ground them down; and the other mountains with jagged and pointed tops indicating where the glaciers did not have a similar impact because they did not grow that high. However erosion is still at work as the influences of wind, rain, ice and snow continue to alter the landscape.

This type of landform provides a spectrum of variables that influence the safety, nourishment, and rearing of offspring that many species have adapted to over thousands of their generations.

Going back millions of years, many species evolved due to the influences of what they prefer to eat and where that food source could be easily found throughout the year. For example, beavers depend on wooded vegetation and while trees grow on mountain slopes, beavers had greater opportunity and benefit to feed on the vegetation that grows next to waterways, so beavers evolved to be more adept at swimming and thriving in an aquatic environment that also sustains certain species of trees that beavers adapted to thrive on.

Mountain Goats and Sheep are the megafauna species featured in the rocky habitats here on the Preserve, They evolved specialized hooves and muscle groups to allow them to move quickly, and safely, on the various rock types found on these slopes.

Of course there are numerous other species present here as well and while they have not evolved noticeable physical adaptations to live on the rocks, they have learned how best to live in this habitat and find the resources required to raise a family and make a living. Our ever-roaming foxes are often seen walking among the goats on the rock faces in their never-ending search for food. Many birds will nest on rocky crags and outcroppings as the precarious nature of these do provide some level of protection against predators like the fox. Eagles, hawks and owls often select a high perch on the rocks as they scan the area looking for their next meal. They often build nests in the protected areas in a crack high up a rock face to take advantage of these lookout positions.

Golden eagle nest on Lake Lebarge’s eastern shores early 2000’s.  Photo D. Caldwell

Rodents also make their homes within the jumbles of rocks hoping they have chosen a safe place to raise a family. Members of the weasel family, including Pine Martin, mink, weasels and even the cunning Wolverine will seek a suitable place to den among the rock slides as well as the forested areas nearby. Bears of course also seek out suitable places in the rocks to den and hibernate over winter.There are no bears denning on the Preserve at this time that we are aware of.

Also not present on the Preserve, are other creatures like Marmots and Pikas that typically make their homes high up in the rocks and mountains of the Yukon, Some species seem to be very widespread and can be found in a variety of Yukon habitat types. While some others are localised to specific geographic locations or elevations where they have the greatest opportunity for success. The ubiquitous Arctic Ground Squirrel also favours mountain sides to make a home.

Keep in mind that numerous natural influences like wildfires, landslides, avalanches and similar disruptions may alter the living conditions for a number of animals that will need to go in search of a new home to raise a family. The same may happen when a grizzly bear selects a den near a favoured grazing area of sheep or goats. To remain safe, the sheep will seek out a new grazing area well away from predators and other dangers.

Thinhorn Sheep rams enjoy sunshine in their predator-free grazing grounds at Yukon Wildlife Preserve.  In the background we see the sheep-accessible cliffs within their habitat.

Rocky habitats are not without their dangers. During the winter season ice will form in small cracks and crevices within the rocks, as the ice becomes colder and swells it further fractures the rock sometimes making it dangerous in that it may break away completely and fall further down the slope.

Gravel screes are the deposits of smaller rocks, pebbles and dirt that have fallen from above and form a skirt of loose materials at the base of a rock face. These can be difficult for mammals to walk on quietly and safely and as such provide another level of security for the creatures that dwell on the mountainsides. Flash floods caused by voluminous rainfall and spring snowmelt can also be dangerous for the creatures that live on the rocks.

Rocky habitats are not without their dangers, which change based on the season.  Here, Thinhorn Mountain Sheep walk through deep snow along the cliff edge at Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

Because rocks warm in the sun and hold that warmth after the sun sets, some rock faces are preferred by early arriving bird species, like raptors, that will nest there to get started on raising the offspring that may hatch while snow still lies on the ground. Raptor parents teach the offspring how and where to hunt after they have learned to fly. They have lots to do within a short seasonal weather pattern, so nesting in the warmth of the rock faces provides them with an advantage to raising a healthy next generation.

Like all other habitats on the Preserve, winter brings some profound changes to mountain slopes the animals must literally take in stride. The goats and sheep cannot run and frolic on the snow covered rock faces as they do in the ice-free season. They pay closer attention to where they travel and may use alternate trail systems during these times to prevent slips and falls. They still make it look much easier than it is and they sometimes look quite smug as they look down at us staring up at them from the road.

The spring thaw also introduces new dangers as the warming rocks may cause the ice to melt from beneath, creating loose patches that can break away when a foot is placed on them. Meltwater cascading down the slope is another seasonal hazard the creatures are well conditioned to avoid. Staying warm and dry is its own reward when the chill winds blow high up on the rocks.

As the ice and snow melt away and the winter white gives way to the browns and greens of spring and the migratory populations return for another summer in the Yukon, the many animals species return to raise their families and prepare them for a life that continues to transform and evolve due to climate change and the other forces of nature like earthquakes, wildfires, floods and the influences of mankind.

It may appear that some animal species are well established and very set in their ways, however they are evolving each day to maximize new opportunities provided by an ever-changing planet and the relationships between their habitats and their ability to get what they need to survive. We humans may not notice these changes right away as they can be quite subtle and appear meaningless to us. An example of this is the recent addition of crows and hummingbirds to the Yukon. They are expanding their summer ranges north as the climate warms and they can find enough nectar producing flowers to sustain them as they explore new habitats in the north. The flowering plants they depend on are also moving further north and their presence here will result in other changes that may take us some time to see and understand as they move into habitats presently occupied by the traditional species we normally focus on. Change is all around us, but it can be difficult to see clearly or understand the scope of these changes.

So take the time to look beyond the megafauna and other species we consider to be normal, you may see something astounding. Just ask Whitehorse bird enthusiast Cameron Eckert who found and photographed an adult female Calliope Hummingbird, on Herschel Island in June of 2017, 1,800 km north of its traditional breeding range.

Doug Caldwell

Doug Caldwell

Wildlife Interpreter

Doug is one of the Interpretive Wildlife Guides here at the Preserve. An avid angler and hunter he has a broad knowledge of Yukon’s wilderness and the creatures that live here. With a focus on the young visitors to the Preserve, Doug takes the extra time to help our guests to better appreciate the many wonders of the animal kingdom here in the Yukon.

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Doctor visit:  Mountain Goats!

Doctor visit: Mountain Goats!

Doctor visit: Mountain Goats!

8 min read – 

During daily rounds to check on the health of the residents, Animal Care staff notice that the eldest male goat, Geronimo, appears to have a cracked hoof. Staff veterinarian Dr. Maria Hallock is concerned he may have cracked it close to the blood supply. This leaves him open to the possibility of an infection, which is more likely with spring weather – melting snow and lots of mud.

The wildlife residents at Yukon Wildlife Preserve are not trained. This keeps them as wild as possible, but it does make medical procedures an interesting challenge. Most medical procedures are performed under general anesthesia to minimize stress to the animal as well as to ensure safety of the staff handling the animal. While some animals are cooperative enough to receive their sedative medication via hand injection, most of them require a distance delivery of the drug via various equipment such as jabpole, blowpipe and dartgun.

Randy, Director of Operations, uses a dartgun for distance delivery of sedative drugs to the young male, or billy, goat. 

The team gathers… but the mountain goats are not interested in participating. So, the team gathers the following day, to try again. Geronimo is successfully sedated – but here’s the thing about mountain goat personalities – their tolerance to their peers showing vulnerability is low to none. If a rival shows weakness, the other goats will come in to finish him off with his very sharp horns. Given the situation and the close proximity of a second male, or billy, there is a great safety concern to Geronimo during his recovery period. Therefore, Dr. Maria decides to use this opportunity to sedate and trim the younger billy’s hooves, as well as clean up any winter hoof overgrowth.
Hooves and horns are composed of keratin – the same protein as hair and nails. Just like in the wild, Rocky Mountain Goats at Yukon Wildlife Preserve will wear down their hooves by walking on the rocks in preferred cliff habitat. During winter, with snow covering the cliffs, it is more challenging for the goats to wear down their own hooves. Even so, not all the resident goats will require hoof trims, but some individuals do – things like older age, genetics and nutrition all contribute.

Hooves and nails are both composed of the same protein, keratin.  Trimming hooves is not unlike humans trimming their fingernails, or taking their pet dog to the vet for a nail trim. 

Dr. Maria and Randy begin trimming hooves, Julie monitors Geronimo’s health while under general anesthetic as Ensio records times and values such as heart rate. 

Once the goats are sedated, we cover their eyes so they won’t be stimulated by light, and team members start taking and recording vital signs – heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature, to name a few. Since Geronimo is an older goat, he is also put on intranasal oxygen throughout the procedure. Dr. Maria and Randy get busy trimming the hooves, to make the procedure as quick and safe as possible, so we can wake the goats up, as soon as we can.

The eldest billy, Geronimo, receives intranasal oxygen. During the procedure to trim his cracked hoof, his eyes are covered to avoid stimulating him.  Here, Julie monitors vital signs such as heart rate, breathing rate and temperature as Dr. Maria works to quickly trim hooves.

We are happy to report that although Geronimo had indeed cracked his hoof, the crack did not communicate with the blood supply, so he’s at less risk of an infection from his hoof. Essentially…. he had a broken fingernail…

Geronimo’s hoof after being trimmed.  The right toe was trimmed bluntly due to the crack in the hoof.  The left toe is the “normal” shape after trimming 

Both billy goats are woken up from sedation at the same time – we don’t want to risk any fighting of a rival!  In order to wake the goats up, they are given injections of sedative reversals.

Julie injects sedative reversal intramuscularly.

The time is noted and recorded so we know when to expect Geronimo to waken.  

Veterinary medical costs quickly add up. Even this simple, fast procedure cost $60 per goat for anesthetic drugs, antibiotics and pain control. Hidden costs include expertise, labour and supplies such as syringe and needles.  

We also administer an injection of antibiotics which will last for 3 days, to mitigate any potential infection arising from either hoof injury or the drug injection site.  Within minutes of waking up, both goats are heading their own way, to get back to the normal routine of being Rocky Mountain Goats.

Photo and Video Credit: L. Caskenette

Julie Kerr

Julie Kerr

Visitor Services Coordinator

Julie is a Registered Veterinary Technologist, living and working in Whitehorse since 2012. She joined the team in May 2018. She is passionate about wildlife, nature and living in a conscious manner with both. Her free time is spent outdoors observing wild animals and ecosystems; her connection to the natural world around her brings great joy – joy she loves to share with anyone interested. Honestly? Work and life blend rather seamlessly.

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Cliff Hanger at Dawn!

Cliff Hanger at Dawn!

Cliff Hanger at Dawn!

The rising sun bathes the cliffs in the rosy hues of dawn.  In a manner I can only describe as precarious, I watch, heart in mouth, as the billy goat stands on his back feet while on a sheer cliff slope.  His front legs dangle loose in the air, all the better to stretch and reach the last of this year’s leaves on the aspen before him.
Of course, the billy is the male of the Rocky Mountain Goat and for him, there is nothing precarious about the scene depicted above.  Mountain goats are renowned for their surefootedness and what seems reckless and foolhardy from a human perspective is, in fact, just another day for the mountain goat.

What makes a mountain goat so agile in rocky cliff terrain?  The truth is they are well designed for their natural habitat.

Mountain Goats have short legs in relation to their overall size, placed close together; their centre of gravity is close to the ground and at the front of their body.  These things help the goat travel on narrow ledges. Muscular shoulders provide great strength for climbing. Finally, the hooves are specialized with rough textured pads and the toes have the ability to spread wide – this distributes the goat’s weight over a larger area.  Conversely, the toes can pinch together, which helps with traction when travelling downhill.

The science adds some understanding to the magic unfolding before me.  I am in awe with this landscape, this animal, this moment in time.   

Come be amazed.  Yukon Wildlife Preserve. 

Julie Kerr

Julie Kerr

Visitor Services Coordinator

Julie is a Registered Veterinary Technologist, living and working in Whitehorse since 2012. She joined the team in May 2018. She is passionate about wildlife, nature and living in a conscious manner with both. Her free time is spent outdoors observing wild animals and ecosystems; her connection to the natural world around her brings great joy – joy she loves to share with anyone interested. Honestly? Work and life blend rather seamlessly.

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Phenology of Molt in Mountain Goats

Phenology of Molt in Mountain Goats

Phenology of Molt in Mountain Goats

Nov 12, 2020 Update

This original Yukon Wildlife Preserve blog article was written while the research was still in progress in 2018. Several articles have come out since then, with more insight on the outcomes of this research project:

All mammals shed but some shed more hair and more slowly than others. Mountain goats are one such mammal. Remarkably, we know very little about their molt or about the molt of most mammals and birds. Knowing how our warming climate might affect cold-adapted animals like mountain goats or muskoxen may help inform conservation planning and management as well as husbandry for captive populations.

The Yukon and Alaska encompass the northern extent of mountain goat range. The two herds of mountain goats at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve provide opportunities to better understand molt at northern latitudes. Studying them may also reveal how age, sex, pregnancy, social status, and behaviour affect molt.

Slide across to see how analysis of trail camera images reveals molt progression. Remote camera images of the 4-year old billy at the Preserve. Rendered show shed areas in black and unshed area in red. Post-processing in Photoshop reveals he was 1.8% shed on May 20th. Images: Katarzina Nowak.

In the middle of May, Preserve staff helped set up four remote cameras. Since then, the cameras have captured thousands of mountain goat photos1The Yukon Wildlife Preserve Research Committee evaluates proposals. Find out more under Learn > Research.

Molt first became apparent in late May and early June. As of June 20th, a 4-year-old billy, and a yearling have shed most (the billy) or all (the yearling) of their winter coats. Close behind them, is 10-year-old billy, Geronimo. The last to molt are the nannies. And we predict the two nannies with this year’s twins will shed last. So far, this follows the molt chronology we expected.

Slide across to see how analysis of trail camera images reveals molt progression. Remote camera images of the 4-year old billy at the Preserve. Rendered show shed areas in black and unshed area in red. Post-processing in Photoshop reveals he was 41.6% on June 13th. Images: Katarzina Nowak.
The Preserve has also allowed me to observe how mountain goats cope with heat. I have watched the goats take frequent dust baths and rub their coats on trees, branches, and feeding stations. The nannies especially have sought – and competed for – shade and pits in the dirt.

We are also remote camera trapping wild goats in several locations in the southern Yukon. And we are amassing photographs from members of the public or “citizen scientists” from across the entire mountain goat range. We expect to learn more about how thermal change is affecting molt. For example, we hope to see if nannies, especially those with kids, face a disproportionate risk of heat stress if they do not molt earlier or faster, or thermoregulate behaviourally.

…animals acclimating to warming in the wild will continue to confront challenges like busy roads and other human pressures.

My recent observations near Montana Mountain in Carcross/Tagish First Nation territory suggest that mountain goats are descending steep slopes to use the Windy Arm of Tagish Lake. To do this, they must cross the Klondike Highway and they opt to do this at night. We will be investigating the drivers of this lake-use over the coming months; to understand if it is for drinking, cooling off, or for minerals. Water pools or artificial shade may prove to be good mitigation options in captive facilities. But animals acclimating to warming in the wild will continue to confront challenges like busy roads and other human pressures.

If you have photographs of mountain goats that you are willing to share with the project for the purpose of analyzing shed patterns, please submit them by e-mail to mountaingoatmoltproject@gmail.com or one of our citizen science portals: CitSci.org web portal or iNaturalist. Thank you for your help!

Dr. Katarzyna Nowak

Dr. Katarzyna Nowak

Researcher

Dr. Katarzyna Nowak is a researcher and fellow at The Safina Center. The Mountain Goat Molt Project relies mainly on participatory science in the form of mountain goat photo contributions from members of the public. It is supported with funds from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y).

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