This image of goats (actually Alpine Ibex) impossibly walking on the near vertical Cingino dam (80º) in Italy has been going viral on the interwebs. This dam is located in Northern Italy’s Gran Paradiso National Park and these great photos were taken in 2010.
It’s an impressive and death defying feat that they’re performing, but why? Why are they risking their lives to walk on this dam?
The answer is simple: Salt. Park officials have stated that the goats are walking out onto the dam to lick salt and minerals off the dam’s stones.
But, there’s another answer: Safety. When these goats are on this 80º dam, they don’t have to worry about predators at all.
“They are not very good runners. Generally, they feel safe when standing on a cliff looking down at potential threats. If you were seeking a good meal, would you not rather have it sitting in a quiet meadow than a combat zone?” – David Saltz, professor of conservation biology at Ben Gurion University in Israel
The goats have also been observed eating lichens and tufts of grass growing on the dam’s stones.
These goats are able to pull off these stunts safely because of their special hooves.
“Unlike horses, goats have hooves comprised of two split toes. The outer part of each toe, which is shaped like a parabola when seen from below and is labeled “Wall” in the diagram below, is hard; the part marked “Sole” on the diagram is soft and rubbery.
The parabolic shape of the hoof wall adds strength, while the cushy sole provides traction on sloped surfaces and can deform inwards to absorb irregularities in the terrain. And because the toes can operate independently, the goat can use just one to gain purchase on extremely narrow surfaces, or splay the toes to gain more contact area.” – core77.com
Adult male Alpine Ibex (220 lbs) are too large to walk out on the dam. You only see females and immature males (both about 100 lbs) climbing out on the dam.
They’re pretty comfy out there on the dam. It’s rare that they fall. It’s rare that a mountain goat ever falls.
“This is not a very big effort for them, no more than sitting on stairs is for you.”
“They do occasionally lose their balance and fall to their death, but this is a very rare occurance. Mortality rate due to fallling is evidently smaller than the increased risk of predation they encounter on a flat terrain.” – David Saltz, professor of conservation biology at Ben Gurion University in Israel