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These Ancient Goats Still Exist in Armenia

Here is your irrelevant fun fact of the day:

Goats are one of the most intelligent and curious animals we have today. 

And here is your relevant fun fact of the day: 

Did you know Armenia's wildlife is inhabited with thousands of the mountainous Bezoar goats?

At first thought, there is little to care about for these stocky and intelligent bovids, until you come to uncover the thousands of years these animals have traversed the mountainous regions of Armenia.

So, where do I find these goats today?

You definitely won't hear their hooves click-clacking down the tuff roads in Yerevan.

The Bezoar goat, the main species that inherits Armena's legacy, is unique in the goat family for their ability to live in a diverse set of climates, varying from deserts to alpine plateaus. They inhabit several areas within Armenia, including the Sevan and  the mountains within the Khosrov Forest Reserve, along with the mountain ranges of Noravank Canyon, Meghri, Bargushat, Vardenis, Urts, and even areas surrounding Garni Temple.

Group of Female and Baby Bezoar Goats Armenia
A group of female and baby Bezoar goats taking in the scenery. Photo by Armenian Geographic.

How do we know these freaky-looking goats have been here this long?

Despite their monstrous hooked horns, Bezoar goats are the ancestor of domestic goats. Studies conducted by science.org tracking gene flow in goats across Europe, Asia, and the Caucuses find the Armenian bezoar goats specifically have evolved for the last 47,000 years.

The earliest recordings of the Bezoars in Armenia date back to the Pagan times of Armenia, when these goats were religiously worshipped. Proof presents itself in the petroglyphs on rocks and caves throughout the Armenian region, most notably presenting their arcing horns.

Petroglyphs of Armenian Bezoar Goat
Petroglyphs of the Bezoar goat's long arcing horns. Photo by Saudi Archeology.

Through the centuries of evolution and interactions with humans, these goats picked up quite the clever name: Bezoar.

The meaning? Rigid hairballs.

I couldn't believe it either.

Throughout history, the Bezoar goat grows a lump in their stomach, which royalty throughout the region would deem of value, as some Bezoars grew larger than others. While at first glance it may seem to be a tumor or related health concern, the Bezoars had simply swallowed hair that grew layer by layer inside its stomach, unable to digest it.

Male (left) and Female (right) Bezoar Goat
Male (left) and Female (right) Bezoar Goat. Photo by World Land Trust

While hairballs and cave carvings may seem comical, their intensity is not. The male goats weigh more than the average male human living in Armenia (90 kilograms vs 75 kilograms). Their horns average 135 centimeters long, which is longer than the desk I'm writing this on.

While rams are notorious for their tectonic fighting, male Bezoar goats become the aggressors when it is time to mate.

Bezoar Goats Fighting
Bezoar Goats Fighting. Photo by iStock

To attract female goats, the males release an oil on their skin and hair. Throughout the year, the female goats and their babies migrate around in a pack of about 50, curating their diet around  grass, herbaceous plants, shrubs, twigs, leaves, bark, berries and water for hydration from the canyon rivers. The males either travel solo or in a group of other male Bezoars.

When the oils are released, the females make their way towards the scent. Upon arrival of the female Bezoars, the male Bezoars duel with their horns at raging speed and deafening force to determine who wins the female to mate with. They'll often hike up on their hind legs, tilt their head back and slam each other with their horns. 

The female Bezoar goats are much softer in appearance than their male counterparts. Lighter in weight, shorter in their horns, and slimmer in their facial structure, the female Bezoars are close caretakers of their babies.

In addition to traverses mountainous landscapes in search of food and shelter, and the mothers look to keep their pack away from large wild cats, jackals, leopards, bears, and wolves, their main predators. Their beautiful coats change in colors based on the seasonal weather, with the most common colors being gray, white, brown, and black. These color combinations allow them to camouflage in with their environments to stay alive.

A silhouette of a Bezoar goat. Photo by Armenian Geographic.
A silhouette of a Bezoar goat. Photo by Armenian Geographic.

Despite these tactics, Bezoar goats are currently in great existential risk.

They are listed on the “1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals”, not for being critically endangered but instead risked extinction in the wild. In the 1980’s in the Caucasus region, the Bezoar goat population was around 3,500 to 4,000 and now has immensely declined.

Now they are already extinct in Jordan and Syria, where they previously inhabited, largely due to war conflicts and illegal hunting.

While illegal hunting and trafficking notably exists in the animal world in Armenia, the Bezoar goat population has been split due to the 44-Day Artsakh War and its aftermath. Because of road constructions, a divide and isolation of the Bezoar goat population could potentially lead to full extinction in Armenia.

Female Bezoar Goats
Female Bezoar goats stalking the cliffs of Armenia. Photo by Armenian Geographic

While Bezoar goats thousand year legacy remains at risk, animal rights and veterinarian care like Armenia's outpost for the World Wildlife Fund for Nature continues to do rescue help and species tracking, including many animal species.

Any other animals you want to learn more about in our wildlife discovery series? Drop us a DM or shoot us an email!

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