Two Mountain Goats Killed in Glacier Study

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Two mountain goats died in Glacier National Park after being struck by researchers’ tranquilizer darts, and officials have halted a study of the animals until they can figure out what went wrong, a park spokeswoman said Friday.

Researchers with the University of Montana and the Wildlife Conservation Society had just started a three-year study of the effects of climate change on mountain goats when a veterinarian darted a goat Tuesday in the park’s Many Glacier valley.

The animal went into respiratory arrest and died, despite the veterinarian administering an antidote and using a breathing apparatus on the goat for 45 minutes, said park spokeswoman Amy Vanderbilt.

Researchers and park officials met on Wednesday and were allowed to go on with their study. The next day, researchers darted another mountain goat and it died.

After the second death, park officials suspended the researchers’ permits. It is not clear when the study will be allowed to continue, Vanderbilt said.

“It would be our hope that we can find the answer to why these mortalities occurred and allow the study to progress, but it will remain suspended until we have the chance to do that review,” she said.

Joel Berger, the wildlife conservation professor at the University of Montana who is overseeing the study, did not immediately respond to a message on Friday.

A field autopsy conducted on the first mountain goat found the tranquilizer dart punctured the animal’s ribcage and caused respiratory arrest. The cause of death is not known for the second one because the carcass is on a cliff and officials have not yet been able to reach it, Vanderbilt said.

The researchers were allowed to continue after the first death because there was no indication there would be additional problems, Vanderbilt said.

The population of mountain goats in Glacier National Park is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000. Researchers plan to study how changing habitats will affect the animals, and whether the park will be their refuge in the face of global warming.

Researchers planned to dart 30 mountain goats over the next two summers, fit them with radio collars and insert thermostat monitors under their skin to measure their body temperature, the air temperature and track their location.

Last year, a young grizzly bear died when park officials trying to relocate it struck it with a tranquilizer dart. Officials concluded the dart may have moved as the bear walked off, hitting the jugular vein, or that the force of the tranquilizing drug squirting out of the dart may have punctured the vein.