CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. — Colorado Parks and Wildlife is investigating a disease outbreak in mountain goats on Mount Evans.
CPW biologist Lance Carpenter and wildlife pathologist Karen Fox recently began a study to determine what is affecting the goats. As of now, the only known symptom is diarrhea and the cause remains unknown.
Whatever is afflicting the animals killed off almost an entire group of young mountain goats, also known as kids, between 2013 and 2014, and has affected the population since then. The outbreak wasn't observed 2014 through 2018, but appeared once again in 2019, CPW said.
Diarrhea is deadly to the kids, as it causes dehydration and intestinal damage. Carpenter and Fox are working quickly to understand the disease before it spreads to mountain goats in other parts of the state, CPW said. As of now, the disease hasn't spread to bighorn sheep, which share the environment with mountain goats.
Carpenter said in October, CPW found seven mountain goat kids with diarrhea. They were brought to CPW’s health lab in Fort Collins for necropsies, where researchers found a mix of bacteria and parasites, but nothing that pointed to a reason for the severe losses in the herd.
“We are hoping to identify what specific pathogens, and what combinations of pathogens, are present before, during and after an outbreak of diarrhea,” Carpenter said.
On July 23, Carpenter began collecting fecal samples to send to the lab and have tested as well. He will continue this through November since samples are required five to six days a week from both adult females and their young kids, both with and without diarrhea. The goats are being tracked — either with paintball markings or satellite collars — since it’s important to the study to trace samples from an individual animal, CPW said.
Carpenter said he hopes the tests will show what has been affecting the goats so they can get the population back up.
“Hopefully, after October we’ll have enough data and samples to determine what is causing this,” he said. “If we don’t, we’ll continue next year.”
Fox said CPW can look at certain types of bacteria, such as E. coli, to see if strains are associated with diarrhea in the goats.
“Hopefully, the results from this project will help us interpret the relative importance of each organism, giving us targets for treatment or management of the disease,” Fox said. “However, if the results indicate that the pathogens we are finding are not associated with diarrhea, we can use the samples to look for uncommon or previously unrecognized pathogens.”
CPW is investigating is E. coli is the cause of the goat’s diarrhea. Heightened levels of the bacteria have been found at Mount Evans due to crowds, and people using the bathroom all over the wilderness area.