A new research study on mountain goats is seeking photos of the ionic creatures at their shaggiest — when they’re molting their hair in the summer months.
Scientists Kate Nowak and Joel Berger are looking to find out if goats are potentially shedding their fur earlier due to climate change. They’re seeking both modern and historic photos of goats, preferably on specific dates for comparison.
Why the concern?
“Imagine you’re wearing a down jacket in the summertime at Flathead Lake, but you can’t take it off,” Berger explained. That’s the sort of heat stress a goat could feel if it continues to hold its coat into the summer months.
It would be particularly challenging for a nanny, as heat stress reduces milk production, and could impact its young.
There’s also another possibility, Nowak explained. Goats could be shedding earlier than they used to due to warmer springs. But if a spring storm comes around, their ability to handle it without a winter coat could be compromised.
The study is not specific to Glacier Park — it’s looking at goats across their range, which runs as far north as Alaska and as far south as Colorado and Nevada. There are even introduced populations in South Dakota. Goats are adaptable to a degree. Locally, there’s a healthy population in the Jewel Basin in the Swan Range. Even though the mountains are at a relatively low elevation, where snow fields do not persist in the summer months, goats still find ways to stay cool.
In South Dakota, Berger noted, they live at even lower elevations and along the Pacific coast, some populations live on cliffs near the ocean.
The hope is to amass at least 500 comparative photos by September. A search of the Hungry Horse News archives shows goats shedding their fur at Gunsight Pass as early as July 9, 1948.
More modern photos show that goats in the same region have shed most of their fur and appear to be growing new coats, by early August. Typically adult males shed their coats the earliest, with lactating females shedding the latest.
Nowak is a fellow with the Safina Center and is also working with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
People interested in sharing photos can do so through the website bit.ly/GoatMoltProject
People are asked to maintain an appropriate distance from goats and to not disturb goats during the kidding period. Photos should show shedding, the date of the photo, location, with elevation if possible, and a resolution of 300 dpi. Researchers can then literally map the shedding extent down to the pixel, Nowak noted.
The photos uploaded to the website will be under a creative commons license. Professional photographers who are willing to share photos, but who don’t want to release the rights can email Nowak directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.