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An airlifted goat
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Why goats are being hit with tranquilizers and airlifted into the Cascades


Making for one the more bizarre stories in the news right now, goats in Olympic National Park are being sedated with opioid darts, and airlifted in helicopters into the Cascades.

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The roughly 700 goats residing in Olympic National Park weren’t always there. In fact, they were brought there somewhere around the 1920s and 30s, all the way from Canada and Alaska. Now, they’re starting to become a problem for what’s become a popular area for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Attracted to the salt in sweat from hikers, as well as urine, goats have become bolder in their interactions with humans.

“Goats by their nature need to be aggressive in order to be able to compete with each other. When they find out that humans are not a threat to them, they can start being aggressive toward humans as well,” Jenny Powers, a wildlife veterinarian for the National Parks Service, told Candy Harper and Mike Lewis on KIRO Radio.

The main motivation, though, surrounds damage to the local habitat from animals not native to the area.

“The biggest reason is to restore the ecology of Olympic National Park, where mountain goats aren’t native, where they’re competing with other wildlife species and also causing environmental damage that we would like to reverse,” said Powers.

In order to fix this growing issue, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife had to get a little creative, devising a way to airlift the goats via helicopter. Powers ran KIRO Radio through the process.

First, a helicopter tracks down one of the goats. Someone comes within about 35 feet of the animal, and then they either shoot a net over the top of it, or hit it with a dart laced with carfentanil, an opioid the DEA classifies as “10,000 more potent than morphine.” From there, a “mugger” comes down to grab the goat, removes it from the net, and then sticks it in a “specialized bag.”

The bag is hooked underneath the belly of the helicopter, “and then you can daisy chain a bunch of goats together, so you have several goats on a rope,” Powers described. 

After capture, the goats are relocated in individual transport boxes to a remote section of the Cascades, away from areas where they could potentially interact with humans.

Powers noted that “they don’t stay exactly where you put them,” but their need for high elevation and difficult terrain makes it unlikely for them to wander back into the path of hikers. Or at least that’s the hope.

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