Mountain goat study halted by animal deaths

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A mountain goat study in Glacier National Park has been suspended following the deaths of two goats after they were shot with tranquilizer darts.

The University of Montana study, aimed at exploring the effects of climate change on mountain goats, got under way this month with preliminary field work in the Many Glacier Valley.

A 6-year-old male mountain goat died Tuesday after it was darted in the Ptarmigan Lake Trail area near Mount Altyn by Dr. Robert Moore, a Wildlife Conservation Society veterinarian.

Moore administered a tranquilizer antidote and provided support breathing for about 45 minutes, according to Dr. Joel Berger, a professor of wildlife conservation at the UM Division of Biological Sciences.

The cause of death later was determined to be respiratory arrest because the tranquilizer dart punctured the goat’s ribcage.

After meeting with park managers on Wednesday, researchers were allowed to resume their field work.

However, a second male goat died after it was darted on Thursday. Its cause of death has not yet been determined.

The researchers were instructed to “stand down” until further notice while the National Park Service conducts a review.

“We are devastated at the loss of these animals,” Berger stated.

The field study was being led by doctoral candidate Stefan Ekemas under Berger’s supervision. Researchers planned to dart 30 mountain goats over the next two summers with a goal of fitting them with radio collars and subcutaneous temperature monitors.

Captures were to be conducted by a veterinarian with care taken to minimize the risk of harm to the animals in the vicinity of cliffs, open water and rough terrain.

Scientists already have learned that changing climate is likely to squeeze habitat available to wildlife such as mountain goats due to changing vegetation in high-elevation terrain.

The main question posed by the study is: Will Glacier National Park become a refuge for mountain goats?

According to Berger, “Climate has been and continues to be a clear driver in shaping and modifying the boundaries of species distribution. Unlike organisms, the boundaries of national parks are fixed. Knowledge of the nature of change across both time and space offers key glimpses into a species’ biology, its potential ecological dynamics, and, perhaps, into conservation strategies.”

According to a park press release, future courses of action for the study will be determined by the National Park Service review.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by e-mail at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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