Let’s start with a quiz: What animals live between the alligator, the meerkats, the giraffes, the rhinos, the Leopard Tortoises, and the zebras and ostriches at the Reid Park Zoo? Answer: Goats, naturally!
You readers and zoo visitors probably have a lot of questions about goats, but some of them may be answered in our list of FAQs, so let’s go straight to those.
Q: Are goats the same thing as sheep? If not, how can I tell them apart?
A: Goats and sheep both belong to the family of animals called bovids, but they are distinct types of animals that differ in appearance and behavior. Goats have thinner, hairy coats, while sheep have thick, wooly coats. Goats have a continuous upper lip, while sheep have a groove in the middle that separates the lip into two parts. Goat tails point up, while sheep tails point down. Most goats have horns, and the horns are relatively narrow and straight. Only some sheep have horns, and those horns are usually thicker and curled at the side of their heads. Sheep have no beards, but most goats do. Sheep graze on grass and other plants low to the ground, while goats browse on grass, shrubs, and branches of trees. And although goats have been domesticated for about 10,000 years, they are generally independent and inquisitive, while sheep are generally more docile and, well, sheepish.
Q: The goats at the Reid Park Zoo are different sizes and colors. Pretty pretty, really. Are they related to each other?
A: The Zoo’s goats represent three different breeds: Boer goats (a breed that originated in South Africa), Oberhasli goats (Swiss, originally), and Nigerian dwarf goats (originally from West Africa). They are not a single family, as 4 of 5 of the RPZ’s elephants are.
Q: Are any other animals evolutionarily/genetically related to goats?
A: The animal family for goats, the bovids, also includes gazelles, African antelope, bison, sheep, and cattle. Animals in this family are called even-toed ungulates, or Arteriodactyla.
Q: Can you say more about goats’ beards?
A: Beards are common on male goats, but some female goats have beards, too. As for the shape of that beard, have you ever heard of a style of beard on men that’s called a “goatee”? Any guesses where that name comes from?
Q: How about the horns? What are they made of?
A: Goats’ horns are true horns. That is, they have a core of living bone that is covered by keratin (the same protein as in fingernails and hair). Goats do not shed and regrow their horns the way deer shed and regrow antlers. Both male and female goats have horns, but horns on males are larger and more visible.
Q: We have also seen goats in petting zoos and on farms, but are there any wild goats anywhere? Are they endangered?
A: Most of the earth’s wild goats live in mountains in Asia, mainly from Turkey to Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are related to domesticated goats, but they are not the same species. Some species of wild goats are considered endangered, although in some cases the remote ruggedness of their natural habitats makes it hard to get an accurate count of their numbers.
Q: Do goats really eat tin cans?
A: Not exactly. First of all, those cans are made of steel or aluminum, not tin. But never mind, you want to know whether goats eat them. Sort of, but not really. Goats have a strong bite and can crunch through some tough things, but they can’t chew up or digest metal. They sometimes do eat the labels off cans, though, and in a picture that might look like the goat is eating the can. They also eat paint off license plates.
Q: What do goats eat, then?
A: Pretty much any plant, with a few exceptions for plants that are toxic to them. They also eat plant-based material like paper or cardboard.
Q: During a recent visit to the zoo, I saw a staff member in the goat area holding out a stick with a colored, foam ball at its tip and giving a goat a reward when it touched its nose to the ball. What was that?
A: You got to see a goat training session! Most of the animals in the zoo participate in training – using only positive reinforcement, never negative reinforcement, or punishment. Training helps animal care staff members to maintain the animals’ health, for instance by allowing staff to draw a blood sample when needed, and to enrich their quality of life. In the case of the goats, a staff member might use a training session to encourage the goats onto a new climbing structure in their habitat, for example. The zoo’s animals are never trained to do tricks or entertain. We plan to write more about training animals at Reid Park Zoo in future blog articles.
Q: Can you drink goat’s milk? How does it taste?
A: Goat’s milk must be safe to drink, because they sell it in supermarkets and grocery stores, right? Taste is a matter of taste, I suppose. Some people probably love it. I don’t think you can get a goat’s-milk latte at Starbucks, though.
Q: How about goat’s milk cheese?
A: One word: yummy!
Q: Do people use goat hair for anything?
A: Yes, definitely! For example, hair shorn from the Angora breed of goats is used to make a “luxury fiber” call mohair, which is lustrous and warm, sometimes used to make scarves. And cashmere, another luxury fiber known to be very soft and warm, comes from the shorn hair of cashmere goats. Cashmere goats originally lived wild in the Himalayan mountains, but now live domesticated in large numbers. Shawls made from the fine hair of these goats originally were produced mainly in the Kashmir region of present-day India and Pakistan, which is how the goats and the fiber got the name, cashmere.
Q: What are some other uses for domesticated goats?
A: Weed whacking! Goats will eat just about any kind of plant up to the height they can stretch to when they stand on their hind legs – up to about 9 feet high. Because of this, goats have been used for some years to clear brush from terrain that is too steep or littered to be mowed by machine. A new development in this field is bringing in goats to clear brush around buildings in areas that are prone to wildfires. And now, if you want to try goats for clearing weeds at your house, you won’t even have to buy the goats – you can rent them!
Q: People used to call me and my little sister kids, but I know “kid” is the word for a baby goat. Did those people really think we were baby goats?
A: That’s funny, but I know you’re just kidding. Speaking of which, “kidding” is the word for when a female goat gives birth…to kids!
Q: Where can I get a wooden climbing structure like the one the goats at RPZ have?
A: You might contact the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. The goats’ climbing structures at the Reid Park Zoo were built by local Boy Scouts, but I’m sure Girl Scouts could build things like that, too.
Q: Will the Reid Park Zoo’s Pathway to Asia expansion include goats?
A: I don’t think goats are part of the current plan for Pathway to Asia, although as I mentioned above, there are wild goats in Asia, so goats in the new expansion wouldn’t necessarily be out of place.
Q: Why has the Pathway to Asia expansion been delayed so long, and is there any news?
A: This blog and website always aim to focus on the positive, so I will just say stay tuned, because there may be some good news about the Reid Park Zoo expansion coming VERY soon!