Goats Really Can Climb Trees

With their incredible sense of balance honed by evolution and mountains, goats scale trees without skipping a beat. Cuno de Boer [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

Goats are fascinating creatures. Unfortunately, they are too 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 (crocodiles! lions! scorpions! honey badgers!). 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 stand on small branches that look like they can barely hold their weight. This is particularly common in 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 in a tree in Morocco
Goats gather in a tree in Morocco. Dpsarma [CC by 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons
Goats hang out in a tree in Morocoo
More goats hang out in a tree in Morocco. www.SuperCar-RoadTrip.fr [CC by 2.0]/flickr

These goats will easily climb to the top of 30-foot tall trees like it's nothing!

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 these days in skin and hair care products, but this is nothing new. Indigenous Berber tribes in the region actually did something similar, though they didn’t get the argan oil out of a bottle that they bought in a store; goats would climb up argan trees and eat the fruits, swallowing whole the core which looks a bit like an almond.

This nut would pass through the goat's digestive system and end up in goat droppings, where it would be collected. To get at the oil inside, you would then have to crack it open with a stone, and grind the seeds inside. The resulting oil was then used for cooking and as a skin treatment.

If you still think someone has been having fun in Photoshop, have a look at these videos:

And it's not just Argan trees!

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

Goats stand in an argan tree
Goats stand in an argan tree. Paul Barker Hemings [CC by 2.0]/flickr

How Do Goats Climb?

But how can goats climb so easily? The obvious answer is that they've evolved for it 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 probably 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.

A goat balances on a tree branch
A goat delicately balances on a tree branch. Sam Strickler/Shuttersock

For more photos of goats in trees and to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Goat, enjoy these talented tree-climbing goats!