Mountain Goat Behavior

On my trip to Glacier National Park, I spotted this family of mountain goats.  They were perched on the rocks across the river.  I zoomed in on them with the camera to get a better look.  Why are the goats licking the rocks?  What is the medical purpose of this behavior?


Diagnosis:  Salt

Mountain goats are herbivores who normally eat woody shrubs, moss, lichens and a variety of grasses.  This type of diet is low in salt so the goats must find it elsewhere.  At Glacier National Park, many goats congregate at an area appropriately called the ‘goat lick’.  They ingest salt and other minerals from the exposed rock on the side of the cliff.  Other herbivores such as moose, deer and elk eat grass along roadways to fulfill their salt needs.  One example of a useful benefit to the animals from sharing the neighborhood with humans involves meeting this dietary requirement.  Salt used during the winter to melt snow and ice washes into the soil and becomes a ‘salt lick’ of sorts.  The mountain goats stick to the rocks instead of roadways owing to the safety it provides them from predators. 

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.