- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - While some people may be surprised to learn that mountain goats are not native to the Black Hills, state wildlife officials hope a rejuvenated population of transplants and zoo escapees will continue to grow and thrive.

“We want people to be able to hike up and see them and for people to see them at Mount Rushmore. That’s important to a lot of people,” said John Kanta, regional wildlife manager for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

The Black Hills‘ original mountain goat herd dates to the 1920s, when six animals were imported from Alberta, Canada, and placed in a zoo in Custer State Park.

They weren’t penned up for long.

“Within a matter of few weeks or a few months those goats escaped,” Kanta said.

The goats found a new home in the granite outcroppings in the park and eventually expanded throughout the Alpine areas of the Hills.

The goat population grew to an estimated 300-400 animals by the 1960s and 70s.

Kanta said that while the numbers began to decline in the 1980s, the population remained generally healthy.

Around 2000 the population started to decrease in size pretty significantly, he said.

“We didn’t know exactly why,” Kanta said.

Theories on the decline ranged from increased predation from mountain lions, encroachment by trees in the open rocky areas mountain goats prefer and human pressure from hikers and rock climbers.

Also a possibility is what Kanta called a lack of genetic diversity.

Because the Black Hills population originated from just six animals, Kanta said the descendants became less hardy and vulnerable to disease and climactic changes.

To increase the bloodlines, officials bolstered the population with 22 goats brought in from Utah last October, added to 19 animals transplanted from Colorado in 2006.

The transfer from Utah, including the move, disease testing and staff time cost around $30,000 with donations from the Dakota Chapter of Safari Club International and the Midwest Wild Sheep Foundation added to Game, Fish & Parks funds to cover a third of the cost.

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