YOHO NATIONAL PARK – In a dramatic twist in nature, a mountain goat turned the tables on a grizzly bear by killing it with its sharp stiletto-like horns as it fought for its life against the attacking bruin.
Parks Canada wildlife officials say a forensic necropsy determined the 70-kilogram female grizzly bear had been killed by a mountain goat that delivered fatal blows to both of the bear’s armpits and beneath its neck.
“The necropsy determined that the female grizzly bear died of natural causes, which is due to an unsuccessful predation attempt of a mountain goat,” said David Laskin, a wildlife ecologist with Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit.
“Grizzly bear predation of mountain goats is relatively common, and I guess the mountain goat was successful in this instance and turned the tables on the grizzly. These mountain goats are big animals and those horns are very sharp.”
A hiker discovered the grizzly bear carcass on Sept. 4 of the busy Labour Day long weekend just metres off the Burgess Pass trail, a 12.9-kilometre out-and-back trail located near Field in Yoho National Park.
The cause of the bear’s death could not be conclusively established at the time, prompting a forensic necropsy; however, wildlife experts had their suspicions given there was a herd of mountain goats in the area.
Laskin said the location of bear’s fatal wounds – both armpits and under the side of the neck – were consistent with the predatory attack behaviour of grizzly bears and defensive responses of mountain goats.
“When grizzly bears attack, they tend to focus on the head, back of the neck and the shoulders of the prey, and it’s usually from above, so in turn the defensive response of the mountain goat would be to protect itself using its sharp horns,” he said.
“The forensic necropsy subsequently confirmed that the wounds incurred before death were consistent with the size and shape of mountain goat horns, so other causes, including human involvement, were ruled out.”
Steeve Côté, a renowned mountain goat expert and professor at Quebec's Laval University, said grizzly bears can be significant predators of mountain goats, noting where he works at Caw Ridge near Grande Cache in Alberta, grizzly bear is the main predator.
"Goats can kill a bear, but this remains a rare event," he said. "All they need is a good horn jab well placed."
In this most recent case, the female grizzly bear was on the small size for a bear in the Canadian Rockies, weighing about 70-kg, but Laskin said it was in reasonable to poor body condition for this time year.
“There was no evidence that the bear had cubs,” he said, adding the bruin wasn’t tagged and was unknown to Parks Canada..
Male mountain goats, which are expert rock climbers and superbly adapted to mountainous environments, can weigh more than 125-kg's in Canada's Rocky Mountains, with nannies weighing about 15 per cent less.
Grizzly bears are known to prey on mountain goats when given the opportunity and this behaviour has been observed in other locations in Yoho National Park in recent years – as well as other places.
In 2018, a nanny mountain goat fitted with a GPS collar for research purposes was apparently killed and eaten by a grizzly bear just below treeline near Sherbrooke Lake in Yoho National Park near the border with Banff National Park.
While there was evidence at the site a grizzly bear had eaten the mountain goat, Parks Canada was unable to conclusively confirm it had killed the goat, but suspected that was the case.
The scant remains of a mountain goat were discovered by Parks Canada wildlife crews after the mountain goat’s GPS collar went into mortality mode, sending a signal indicating the collar had not moved in the previous 24 hours.
In another incident that year, a passerby on the Trans-Canada Highway filmed a grizzly bear trying to hunt a nanny goat and her kid on cliffs along the highway at Mount Bosworth, just west of the Lake O’Hara Junction. A video of the impressive encounter was uploaded to YouTube and can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=11RQKKpcuU8.
“Though rare, other cases of mountain goats defensively killing bears have been reported in the past,” Laskin said.
“This is not completely surprising since mountain goats are strong animals that are well equipped to defend themselves.”
In this most recent case, the hiker that stumbled across the bear carcass did the right thing by immediately leaving the area and reporting the finding and location to Parks Canada. The number to call is 403-762-1470.
In addition to wanting to do a necropsy to determine the reason for the bear’s death, Parks Canada was also quick to remove the carcass to prevent it from luring other wildlife, including carnivores, to the area.
“Carcasses attract carnivores and other wildlife that may act aggressively to protect their food source,” Laskin said. “That may pose a risk to visitors in the area.”