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Here's why these mountain goats are marked with paintballs

CPW is studying the goats to find more out about a mysterious disease that killed many animals in 2013 and 2019.

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. — Goats marked with paintballs aren't being harassed, but are part of a study being conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) in an effort to detect disease outbreaks that were reported in 2013 and 2019.

Mountain goat kids were observed to be suffering from severe diarrhea and almost the entire age class of kids were lost those two years due to this unknown disease.

Last year, wildlife biologist Lance Carpenter and wildlife pathologist Karen Fox initiated a study to try and identify the cause of the disease. That includes taking fecal samples of the nannies (adult females) and their kids (this year’s offspring) from June through October.

RELATED: CPW aims to identify unknown disease in mountain goats

“Right now we are collecting some baseline information, so we are marking these goats with paintballs,” Carpenter said. “The paintballs that we hit them with don’t hurt the goats, but we individually mark each animal that we are tracking and we want to track these animals over time. The hope is to get some baseline information of what their feces contains - the bacteria, the viruses or if there are parasites - to help us understand what is going on.”

If a diarrhea outbreak happens again in September or October, wildlife officials will have that standard sampling information to compare it with.

“One of the things we have initially seen this year is high loads of E. coli,” Carpenter said. “We don’t know if that is the cause yet, but it is kind of interesting to us that we are seeing these high loads of E. coli.”

Credit: Jason Clay, CPW

From the mountain goat population survey in 2020, there are between 80-90 mountain goats that utilize the habitat Mount Evans provides.

CPW reminds visitors to practice Leave No Trace principles.

  • Pack out what you carry in (this includes human and dog waste).
  • Maintain a safe distance from all wildlife. If a mountain goat approaches you on the summit, which they most likely will, you should back away from that animal.
  • Do not feed any wildlife.

Visitors to Mount Evans come from all over the world to see the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and mountain goats on the highest paved road in North America that leads up to the summit parking lot at 14,130 feet.

Those at the summit should use the rule of thumb, and always remember to “give them room, use your zoom.” That refers to photographers keeping a safe distance from these animals.

RELATED: CPW wants to remind people not to feed wildlife on Mount Evans

The rule of thumb offers a way to help people maintain a safe distance from wildlife. If you can stick your thumb up and it blocks out the entire animal from your vision, you generally are at a safe distance. If you stick out your thumb and you can still see portions of the animal in your vision, you are too close and need to back away.

Visit recreation.gov to ‘know before you go’ and make your reservation if you are looking to travel to the summit of Mount Evans.