Culturally prized mountain goats may be vanishing from Indigenous land in Canada
For thousands of years, members of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation in Canada have prized the mountain goats that roam the craggy peaks of British Columbia’s central coast.
The animals have long been an important food source, explains Kitasoo/Xai’xais Chief Councillor Doug Neasloss. And “we use the mountain goat in a lot of our cultural events — songs and dances and stories.”
Formerly a wildlife tour guide, Neasloss remembers seeing lots of the goats in the region in past decades, but no longer. And many in the community have noticed a similar trend.
Goats in Kitasoo/Xai’xais territory are thought to occur at lower densities than farther east in the goats’ range in the higher Rocky Mountains. But there has been “almost zero research” on British Columbia’s coastal mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), until now, says Tyler Jessen, a conservation biologist at the University of Victoria in Canada.
Kitasoo/Xai’xais community members partnered with Jessen and his colleagues to investigate the mountain goats’ status. Numbers of the animals do seem to have undergone a decline since the 1980s, the team reports March 8 in Conservation Science and Practice. The reasons why remain unknown but might be a result of a warming climate, the researchers say.
To estimate contemporary goat numbers and density, the researchers conducted aerial surveys in 2019 and 2020, scrutinizing habitats higher than 1,000 meters above sea level in Kitasoo/Xai’xais territory near Klemtu, British Columbia. To estimate how goat numbers have changed over time, the research team interviewed individuals from the local community who regularly hunt wildlife, guide, conduct research or fish the region. For each decade back to the 1980s, participants gave estimates for how many days out of 10 they saw goats.