The last Samson

Samson stood wavering in his favourite summertime meadow in the realm of sheer towering rock and pure white snow

Samson stood wavering in his favourite summertime meadow in the realm of sheer towering rock and pure white snow, peering at the world below, he wondered where the local herds had gone, for he hadn’t spotted one of his own in two years. He was losing his strength steadily, but at the ripe old age of 12 his teeth were worn down to the gum-line and could no longer feed his once powerful body. Samson was the last of the Pleistocene Mountain Goats on Vancouver Island that became extinct over 10,000 years ago, most likely during the early Holocene warming which temperatures were warmer than they are today. Evidence of Mountain Goats have been discovered in a number of Northern Vancouver Island caves, skeletal remains dating 10,000 and 16,000 years old, their bones within the size range of modern specimens. I took the liberty of using the name Samson, a super-sized mountain goat in the range of over 300 pounds in the Selkirk Mountain range, for several years local mountaineers had described chance encounters, and two years ago I was lucky enough to spend several hours with him near Snow Cap Glacier at 2,700 metres. This is Samson’s 12th year, and chances are he may no longer be with us. It is a magnificent region with several glaciers, where Mountain Goats, and grizzly still roam the high peaks in good numbers, a region only reached by foot, and not tampered with by the ignorance and greed of man. Constant aggressive behaviour is a feature of every day life, as goat society is organized as a dominance hierarchy, in which individuals relative rank is determined by its ability to defend and assert a mobile personal space.  There is never a shortage of posturing of head to butt, horns back and smacking each other in the back side, their backsides have thick skin to prevent injuries, yet Samson fed amongst the bands without challenge, unlike the pre-adults. It’s a constant sparring match preparing for the heavy weight match, and make no mistake they can be lethal, as goats are on record of goring grizzlies to death, and humans who don’t respect their space. Spending so much time with grizzlies in the high country it became second nature to observe goats over the last 20 years. You come to realize they have a great capacity for curiosity, frustration, companionship, and joy. It was an animal that many believed was protected by man’s greed, because they lived in the tip top of the world in the clouds and snow, unlike the grizzly population that was being devastated by development in the valleys.

That may have been true at one time, but with a provincial government bent on mining BC on a scale never seen before, even the elusive Mountain Goats are being impacted by mining.

In 1961 there were approximately 100,000 in BC, today the number varies between 20,000 and 60,000. If you divided the province in half, in the remote northern regions the population decline is very slight, but in southern BC the population has been devastated due to road access and mining development. There are several studies showing the impact of mining, using a couple of examples; the Denarchi/Sumanik study found one group went from 163 to three animals in five years after high slopes were opened by coal and oil-related operations, the Pendergast/Bindernagel study found one group went from 740 to 260 animals in just over 10 years due to development of coal operations.

When all the oil reserves and coal beds are dried up, will we then react by developing new energy strategies?

By then all the high pure places will have been destroyed along with the griz and mountain goat. Maybe we can reintroduce mountain goats to Vancouver Island before the mainland becomes a wasteland of pipelines and mine scars? You have to wonder if mankind is wise enough to overcome their self-inflicted tyranny of greed, and be pro-active in protecting nature.

 

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