Mountain goats are not true goats – but they are close relatives. They are more properly known as goat-antelopes. These surefooted beasts inhabit many of North America’s most spectacular alpine environments. They often appear at precipitous heights, from Alaska to the U.S. Rocky Mountains, showcasing climbing abilities that leave other animals, including most humans, far below.
Mountain goats have cloven hooves with two toes that spread wide to improve balance. Rough pads on the bottom of each toe provide the grip of a natural climbing shoe. Mountain goats are powerful but nimble and can jump nearly 12 feet (3.5 meters) in a single bound.
Mountain goats have distinctive beards and long, warm coats to protect them from cold temperatures and biting mountain winds. Their dazzling white coats provide good camouflage on the snowy heights. During the more moderate summer season goats shed this coat.
Female goats (called nannies) spend much of the year in herds with their young (called kids). These groups may include as many as 20 animals. Males (known as billies) usually live alone or with one or two other male goats.
Both sexes boast beautiful pointed horns, and in mating season billies will sometimes use them to battle rivals for prospective mates. In the spring, a nanny goat gives birth to one kid (sometimes two), which must be on its feet within minutes of arrival into its sparse mountain world. Mountain goats eat plants, grasses, mosses, and other alpine vegetation.