A mountain goat in Olympia Washington. Photo via iwona_kellie, Flickr, Creative Commons
Robert Boardman, an experienced outdoorsman, was killed by a mountain goat while hiking with his wife and a friend in Washington's Olympic National Park. The goat, which was renowned for its aggressive behavior, started following the hikers along the trail. When Boardman attempted to scare the goat away, giving his company an opportunity to escape, it gored him in the leg. He was taken by helicopter to the nearest hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Tragic, to be sure. But in the wake of the incident, news surfaced that the aggressive goat had been targeted for 'hazing'--park rangers had repeatedly thrown rocks at it and shot it with bean bags. Now, the rangers weren't simply being a-holes without cause--they were evidently attempting to instill into the goats a fear of humans with the painful harassment. The hazing was intended to intimidate the goat, to make it less aggressive. The approach, however, appears to have backfired.
Witnesses said Mr Boardman, his wife and friend had stopped for lunch on Klahhane Ridge when the ram appeared and moved towards them.The whole process took hours from the point when Boardman was first gored to when the goat was finally scared away. By the time Boardman had been lifted to the hospital, it was too late.
Mr Boardman tried to shoo the animal away but it instead attacked him. After goring the hiker the goat stood over him, and had to be pelted with rocks by a ranger before finally moving away.
Yet the incident is not entirely without precedent -- evidently hikers have complained about an aggressive goat in that region of the park as early as 2008, according to the Peninsula Daily News. The complaints weren't anything serious enough to warrant exterminating the goat, the rangers said. But there are signs littering the trail that encourage hikers to throw rocks and make noise and attempt to scare goats away, should they get too close. Hikers are recommended to stay 100 ft away from any wildlife.
Now, I'm no expert animal behaviorist, but it seems to me that hurling rocks at aggressive animals might not always be the best policy: As this story appears to demonstrate, it could just piss them off. Hazing is not an uncommon practice -- it's commonly used to permanently frighten territorial animals away from a food source or marked ground. But perhaps this incident will yield an opportunity to give it further thought.