Measuring Body Condition Using Ultrasound in ONP

Peter Muennich

The Olympic National Park mountain goat relocation project has begun. Helicopters began with the first wave of captures in mid-September. The goal is to capture roughly half of the park’s resident 700 mountain goats before lethal removal is implemented in the years ahead.

Unfortunately, a reality of drugging and relocating wild animals is that not 100% of them survive. What is to become of these expired animals? The RMGA recently funded for Conservation Committee member, Kevin White of Alaska Department of Fish and Game, to travel to Washington with his colleagues Tom and Kathleen Stephenson (California Department of Fish and Wildlife) and Yasaman Shakeri (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) to make sure these valuable specimens would contribute to important scientific studies and did not go to waste.

Ultrasound has long been used to evaluate the body condition (amount of fat) of live-captured wild animals. Thanks to the pioneering research of former Alaskan biologist, Tom Stephenson, this technique has been validated on animals like deer, moose, caribou, elk and bighorn sheep. This method of measuring the animal’s body fat has never been validated with mountain goats. The capturing of so many goats in ONP creates a unique opportunity to change that.

The causalities from the capture will be collected by the field research team and evaluated using the ultrasound technique before being necropsied to compare the ultrasound’s findings to the animal’s actual body condition. This type of evaluation is necessary to validate the ultrasound measurements and legitimize use of the technique on live captured animals in the future. This is extremely valuable data for mountain goat biologists to best determine the nutritional condition and health of the animals as well as the carrying capacity of the landscape.

The future wave of lethal removal of the park’s mountain goats is still surrounded in many unknowns. The RMGA is petitioning for all lethally removed goats to not be wasted. The valuable meat, hides and horns should be fully utilized. Stay tuned for more updates from this historical relocation project.

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