With their long, sharp claws and frightening speed, few predators in Canada’s wild hinterlands attack as mercilessly as a hungry grizzly bear.
But in a rare turn of events, park officials say a mountain goat not only defended itself from becoming a meal, but was able to kill the attacking bear with its “dagger-like” horns.
Parks Canada said the recent forensic necropsy of a female grizzly bear suggests she was killed by a goat, after the horns pierced the bear’s armpits and neck.
“When grizzly bears attack, they tend to focus on the head, the back of the neck and the shoulders of the prey. This attack usually comes from above,” said David Laskin, a Parks Canada wildlife ecologist with the Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit. “The defensive response of a mountain goat would be to protect itself using its sharp horns.”
The remains of the bear, who weighed only 70kg (154lb) and isn’t believed to have had any cubs, was discovered on 4 September by a hiker, close to the Burgess Pass trail near Field, British Columbia. The carcass was airlifted out later that day over worries it could attract other predators.
Mountain goats, whose thick white coats give them the appearance of ghostly apparitions high in the mountains, can weigh as much as 125kg – and their black horns can reach lengths of nearly 12in. Nimbly traversing high altitude outcroppings, they rarely venture down from their mountainside perches. But their grazing range can overlap at times with grizzly habitats, often resulting in fatal encounters.
“Grizzly bear predation on mountain goats is relatively common. But this is the first case my colleague and I have ever seen,” said Laskin.
In 2018, footage of nanny mountain goat protecting her kid from a grizzly bear was captured in Yoho national park. The bear tried to edge its way down a rocky ledge, but turned back after the cliff where the goats were perched appeared too steep.
“Bears put themselves at risk when predating on large ungulates like moose, and elk … And there’s been other cases of mountain goats defensively killing bears that have been reported in the past, but rarely do you find anythingdocumented like this,” said Laskin. “This has definitely been interesting – and a reminder that nature is full of surprises.”