Believe it or not, I wanted to write this blog post before I thought up that brilliant pun. This one is all about the feral mountain goats of the Scotland…

Just look how happy she is!

“Feral goats” is the umbrella term for any domesticated goat which has become established in the wild. They are usually descended from C. aegagrus which are identified by their long coarse hair, horizontal pupils and long straight horns. Males are shaggier with straighter horns and, in the case of the Scottish herds, they are particularly stinky!

Amazingly, the Scottish feral goats are thought to have originated from herds farmed by Neolithic-era humans. This practice continued right up until the 1700s. During this time, there were large evictions from the Scottish Highlands and Islands and those forced to move couldn’t take their livestock with them. And so, left to fend for themselves, the goats took to the mountains and prospered.

Female Feral Goat soaking up the sun

There are now thought to be between 3,000 – 4,000 goats living in the Scottish highlands and are actually considered to be a threat to the native green spaces due to their enjoyment of fresh shoots and greens. They have caused serious problems to the regeneration of native trees and plants. Overgrazing of certain key areas has led to massive degradation of natural habitat and there are now a few management methods being discussed; although none have been implemented as of yet.

A major identifying feature of the goat is their horizontal pupils. There is a fascinating reason behind this evolutionary quirk…

The goat’s pupil: A natural spirit level

Goats are inherently “prey” animals. As a result, they are always on the look out for the advance of a predator. The eyeballs are positioned on the side of the skull so as to allow nearly 360º vision. Further to this, the goats have evolved horizantal pupils which allow the maximum amount of light to be picked up by light sensitive cells at the back of the eyeball. All this makes it very difficult to sneak up on a goat.

I think I’ve been spotted!

Most mammals are virtually blind when they lower their heads to feed. Not the goat! These sneaky little stinkers have pupils which remain level with the horizon as they raise and lower their heads so that even when they have their heads down, they can still collect lots of light and movement information from around them. Pretty clever huh?!

Juvenile goats are known as kids and can be born from February until late summer. Although the majority are born in early spring. They feed on the fat rich milk of their mothers. Incredibly, a healthy female can produce between 3-7kg of milk each day! This diet means that their offspring can put on the required amount of fat quickly to survive in sometimes harsh environments.

“Love you mum!”

Goats are also pretty unique in that they are also one of the few species where male lactation is observed. Although they produce substantially less milk than the females.

“No closer, thanks!”

Even if they are a threat to the native ecosystems, it was still an absolute treat to see these animals in their element in the heavy snow of the cairngorms. I was even treated to the sight of a very newborn kid. Only a couple of hours old, this little one was already bravely scampering around in the snow while its protective mum watched on.

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