What is the difference between a goat and a sheep? Foolish question, any farmers boy would tell you so, but still we find many people confuse the wild goats and sheep.
Sheep were at one time found on Mount Rainier, as they were found in most of the mountains of western America but years ago they were entirely wiped out in the southern Cascades. Likely the nearest sheep range at present is some two hundred miles north of Mount Rainier.
Goats, however, have been more fortunate and still range as far south as the Columbia Gorge. Although Rainier is one the edge of their present restricted range we estimate that there are still between two and three hundred goats in the Park and that they are holding their own. Last week a party saw a band of twenty goats in Cowlitz Park on the east side.
Big-horn or wild sheep are well distributed over the world and are undoubtedly the ancestors of the domestic breeds. They are distinguished by huge recurving horns and short wool or hair, in both respects very different from their domestic descendents.
The wild goats common to the high mountains of the Old World is represented in America by only one species, the White Mountain Goat. It is characterized by a long bearded head, small black horns never more than nine inches in length, heavy body humped like a buffalo at the shoulder and a coat of long shaggy white hair.
The Mountain Goat is not as closely related to the domestic goat as is the Mountain sheep to the domestic sheep, but rather more closely related to the antelope. His closest relatives, however, are the Chamoux and Asiatic wild goats.
We frequently are asked "How big is a Mountain Goat?" According to Walter P. Taylor of the Biological Survey, who has studied the wild life of the National Park, an average male speciman stands about three feet high at the shoulder, is more than five feet from head to tail, and has a tail about four inches in length.
The record goat horns measure less than then inches and are only about an inch in diameter at the base. Not much of a horn compared to that of the Mountain Sheep Ram, which in the case of the huge "Ovis poli" of the Himalayas measure some eighteen inches in circumference at the base and upwards of fifty inches in length.
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