Goats Really Can Climb Trees

You'll spot them in the argan trees of southwest Morocco.

goat in an argan tree, Morocco

Katherine Martinko

Goats are fascinating creatures. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked, probably because they are not as iconic as other domesticated animals like horses and cows, and not as exotic as the creatures usually featured in nature documentaries—think crocodiles, lions, scorpions, and honey badgers. And yet, the humble goat can do very impressive things, like climb up mountains via sheer cliffs that would leave all but the most expert human climbers, with all their high-tech equipment, calling out for their mamas.

A goat balances on a precarious rock
A goat balances on a precarious spot on a rock face. SurprisePally [CC by 2.0]/flickr

A lesser-known talent of some goats is the ability to climb trees, even fairly tall ones, and balance on small branches that look like they can barely hold their weight. This is particularly common in southwest Morocco, where food can be scarce and argan trees produce a fruit that is particularly appealing to goats. See for yourself!

Goats Climb for Food

goats high up in a tree

Katherine Martinko

These goats will easily climb to the top of 30-foot tall trees like it's nothing. They congregate in precarious-looking groups, scramble up steep angles, jump from branches, and bat at tasty-looking bunches of argan nuts to bring them closer. Watching them is a bizarre and mind-boggling show of antics that appear to defy physics.

Goat on and around an argan tree in Morocco
Goats on and around an argan tree near Taroudannt, Morocco. Dromedar61 [CC by 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons

You might recognize the name of the argan tree from the current trend in cosmetics. Argan oil is quite popular in skin and hair care products, but this is nothing new. Indigenous Berber people (also called Amazigh) in the region have been using this oil for centuries—and they know the surprising secret of how it's made, and what its unusual connection is to tree-climbing goats.

The animals climb the argan trees and eat the fruits, swallowing the core which looks a bit like an almond. This nut passes through the goat's digestive system and ends up in its droppings, where it's then collected. To get at the oil inside, you have to crack it open with a stone, and grind the seeds inside. The resulting cold-pressed oil is then used for cooking and as a moisturizing skin treatment. Most argan oil production in Morocco is carried out by small-scale cooperatives, employing women.

Berber woman cracks argan nuts

Katherine Martinko

If the defecation process grosses you out, it might be assuring to know that the goats often spit out the argan seeds, as well. One estimate made by the Hassan II Agronomic and Veterinary Institute in Rabat, Morocco, says that up to 60% of the nuts used to make argan oil may be spat out by goats. This has the added benefit of spreading seeds for new trees to grow.

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And it's not just argan trees. Goats have been spotted climbing even more difficult trees.

These talents work well for climbing trees, as we've seen here, but they also are effective for brick walls.

goats feeding on argan trees

Katherine Martinko

How Do Goats Climb?

The obvious answer is that they've evolved to do these types of difficult climbs and precarious jumps, and have an innate sense of balance that clearly surpasses ours, or that of most other species. These talents likely evolved primarily to climb mountains, where large population of mountain goats can evade predators and move around quickly to find spots where food grows or where there is salt to lick. They are helped by their hoofs, which have two toes that can spread out to create a more secure footing, and two vestigial toes higher up their legs, called dewclaws, that can be used as leverage to climb up a mountain side or a tree branch.

For more goats in trees, enjoy the talented tree-climbing goats shown in the video below.

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