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Quiz #49 - Answer

by Brian Booth

Photo 49G

The mystery animal is MOUNTAIN GOAT. I got to watch these tracks being made, and the adult ewe in the photo is the animal who made these tracks.

The mountain goat is a hoofed animal, with feet similar to deer and elk.

The clues that help suggest these tracks were from a mountain goat include:
The relatively small size of the tracks would rule out these tracks as being from elk. Elk in this region are known as “Roosevelt elk”, a population of elk that grow to enormous size. (The name comes from Teddy Roosevelt, who was instrumental in establishing the area as a national park, mainly because of the trophy-specimen elk that live here.)
The toes in the tracks are more blunt than a deer. (Actually, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Mountain goat tracks vary a lot from one footprint to another, with many footprints looking exactly like a deer. You have to examine a lot of footprints to confirm a trail is from a mountain goat and not a deer. I did you a favor and only included the most highly “goat-looking” tracks in the trail in this quiz.)
The toes are splayed apart, nearly parallel to each other, forming what some people describe as “boxy” shaped tracks. (Deer toes point inwards towards the center of the track, forming a more heart-shaped footprint.) (Again, mountain goat footprints vary a lot, and I only included the most highly “goat-looking” tracks in the trail in this quiz.)
The high alpine location of the tracks, which is more closely associated with mountain goat than deer or elk, is NOT really a clue that supports identifying these tracks as mountain goat. Deer and elk also inhabit high alpine meadows like this, and in fact there were both deer and elk tracks in close proximity to these mountain goat tracks.

This tracking experience – seeing deer & elk tracks in what would ordinarily be considered “mountain goat terrain” – solidified a lesson I learned from the outstanding tracker John McCarter, who has pointed out to me a number of times that habitat is one of the least reliable clues in identifying tracks. As an example on a Massachusetts winter field trip, he pointed out examples of mink and otter tracks that were over a half mile from the nearest water.
Photo 49H

However, in this case, these tracks were indeed from a mountain goat, the regal king of the lofty peaks. These animals are truly inspirational to see in the wilderness. They have massive muscles, can endure extremely harsh and cold conditions, and can scale nearly-vertical cliffs. I saw 24 mountain goats on this trip, and will relish it as one of my greatest life adventures.

Wishing you all great tracking adventures in the near future as well.
Until next quiz,

Quiz #49 - Question      ...on to Quiz #50

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