OK, Mr. 250-pound mountain goat, you’ve got two choices. One, you can be tranquilized and travel via helicopter, ferry, and truck to a place you’ve never been before. Or, you can run for your life with the likelihood of being shot in the not-too-distant future. What will you do? Well, being a goat, and not overly practiced in the art of long-range planning, you‘d probably follow your instincts and run for your life. That’s what some 300 mountain goats did in Olympic National Park in Washington State in September, while another 375 hesitated, got caught and took the ride. And what a ride it was! Mountain goats rank among the best climbers in the world, and their inclination when threatened is to go higher. This means they would have to be captured and tranquilized up among the high meadows and crags of Washington’s Olympic Range, in territory that only helicopters can negotiate.
And so it was helicopters to the rescue once again, carrying two to three goats at a time. The goats were tethered vertically to a single strand via ingenious, customized pouches. The helicopters whisked the animals downhill to a more level spot, where they could be lowered one-by-one into the trucks that would take them to their new homes.
We have seen some wondrous and memorable feats of rescue performed by helicopters in the past, including transport of humongous black rhino’s to prevent their extinction. Yet there is something about these photos of three, blind-folded mountain goats dangling from a copter on a single vertical strand that strikes an even deeper chord, as media coverage of the event continues to mushroom almost three weeks later. Part of the attraction may be a sense of tragedy. These goats did not ask to be put in Olympic National Park. A few of their ancestors were brought from British Columbia to the Olympic Peninsula by hunters in the 1920’s or ‘30’s, many goat generations ago. Left to itself in its new surroundings, the little herd thrived, increasing from a handful to over 1000 by 2017.
The mountain goats’ success was also their downfall, for as their numbers increased, supplies of critical salts and minerals became scarce. The goats began following humans around, attracted by the salts in their bodily fluids. This human-goat conflict reached critical mass in 2010 when a goat gored and killed a park guest. Fortunately for the goats, there were places they could go. At the end of their 160-mile journey by chopper, truck and boat is the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. It has abundant mineral salts and an existing but declining mountain goat herd that needs new breeding stock. While park and forestry officials said that full recovery would be a slow process, they expressed hope that the relocation would result in substantial herd improvements within ten years.
As for the helicopters, little information is available, except that there were several of them. Study of the photos indicates that one was an MDS 500, a light utility copter with five blades, capacity for four passengers, and a payload of 1100 lbs. That would be about right, as the string of three mountain goats would weigh 900 pounds. As for the goats, they were last seen doing what they always do. Freed, they were galloping uphill, to that safe and elevated realm where only eagles – and helicopters — can follow.