Over 100 hundred mountain goats have been drugged, blindfolded and then flown in slings across the picturesque Olympic National Park in the US state of Washington this week.
Officials began rounding up the sure-footed but non-native mammals from remote parts of the park on Tuesday, where humans introduced them in the 1920s, to relocate them to the Cascade Mountains, where they originate.
Animal capture specialists called “gunners” and “muggers” sedate the animals with darts or capture them in nets, blindfold them, pad their horns and fly them — on slings dangling from a helicopter — to a staging area.
There, they’re looked over by veterinarians and fitted with tracking collars before being trucked to the Cascades and once again flown by helicopter, this time into their new alpine habitats, the Associated Press reports.
The relocations began last year, following a years-long stretch of planning and public comment, with 115 of the roughly 725 mountain goats in the Olympics being moved to the Cascades.
Officials captured 17 Monday and Tuesday at the start of a two-week goat relocation period, including a kid about 6 weeks old, which got a ride on a mugger’s lap inside the helicopter instead of hanging beneath it.
The Olympics have few natural salt licks, deposits of minerals that animals lick to obtain nutrients. That makes it more likely goats there will be attracted to the sweat, urine and food of hikers, potentially endangering the hikers. One goat fatally gored a hiker in 2010.
A coalition of state and federal agencies and American Indian tribes is behind the effort, which involves closing parts of the park, including the Seven Lakes Basin and Klahhane Ridge. A second two-week closure period is planned for August.
“Mountain goat relocation will allow these animals to reoccupy historical range areas in the Cascades,” Jesse Plumage, a US Forest Service wildlife biologist, said in a news release.
The capture of the goats was contracted out to Leading Edge Aviation, a company that specialises in animal capture and relocation.
Rich Harris, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist leading the agency’s work to move the goats, told The Seattle Times this month that of those relocated last year, about 65 to 70 survived the winter. Half of the 10 relocated kids survived, he said.