Morocco

This One Will Get Your Goat

by Jenny McGlone

Chapel Hill, NC, United States

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…

a goat?

In southwestern Morocco, people know a surprising truth about goats: they can climb. In fact, they can climb better than humans, given their unique physiology and instincts. They can perch on trees, rocks, and steep vertical surfaces as easily as we can perch on our front stoops. Pretty remarkable, considering that the largest goats can weigh up to 300 pounds.

Appetite for Argan Fruit

Because goats are not only nimble but also intelligent and inquisitive, their search for food can lead them to unexpected places. Goats living in the mountains have been seen foraging at elevations up to 8,500 feet. They do not like eating food that has dropped on the ground, so what better way to locate unspoiled treats than by peering upwards? In the Sous region of Morocco, bordering the Sahara desert, goats scale trees as high as 30 feet in order to locate their beloved argan fruit. These animals gain 47 to 84 percent of their calories from the fruit and leaves of the argan trees. They chew an average of 50,000 times per day to begin the process of digesting this material through four stomachs.

A benefit to humans of this argan fruit feast is the end result: undigestable nuts left behind in goat poop. Each nut contains 1 to 3 almond-shaped seeds, the shells of which are 60 percent oil. Once they are ground and pressed, they yield a valuable cosmetic and culinary liquid, sold on international markets for prices over $400 per liter. It can take 66 pounds of argan seeds to deliver one liter of oil, so these ruminating goats must munch speedily.

Anatomy of a Foot

At this current point in evolutionary history, goats have come to possess several helpful physical characteristics that facilitate their ability to scale great heights. First, attached to flexible anklebones, their small, delicate feet each comprise two split toes that can wedge into small cracks for traction (see photo at right). In addition, they have rubbery pads on the bottoms of their hooves that mimic the most expensive climbing shoes. Finally, two digit-like structures called dewclaws sit higher on their legs and halt any errant slippages.

Climbing Feats

Another death-defying goat climbing spot is in northern Italy, where a dam offers Mount-Everest-like challenges. The bare stone walls of the Cingino hydroelectric dam attract wild mother goats and their kids, who lick, nibble, and chomp their way across its 160-foot walls. At an incline of 80 degrees, the surface is free of predators but certainly presents other dangers.

A final testimony to the clambering reputation of goats comes from a farmer in Illinois. He built a 31-foot castle tower for his 24 goats, as seen in the photo above. His tower of 5,000 handmade bricks is circumscribed by a 276-step spiral staircase and punctuated by three openings on each side. The goats on this farm? They have it in the ba-aa-ag.

Math Questions

  1. What shape would you use to describe the bottom of a goat’s hooves? Use your knowledge of the properties of this shape to describe why it is good for gripping.
  2. The 2 toes of goats are symmetrical. Describe the concept of symmetry and why you think this quality helps goats climb.
  3. The further away a goat stands from the base of a branch, the more force it exerts on that branch. Write an equation that models the relationship between distance from the base of the branch and force exerted.
  4. Describe how the hooves transfer downward force to sideways force. Refer to this site for some help.
  5. Set your textbook up at a 10-degree angle. Measure the 2 legs and hypotenuse of the right triangle formed. Now make a 30-degree angle and measure the 3 sides. Repeat with 45, 60, and 80 degrees. What patterns do you see? Make a prediction about what is the steepest angle you could stand on.

Write your own math question and submit it here

Extension Questions

Read this brief article and then find out more about the risks of the argan oil boom. Identify the major issues at stake and discuss how you feel about them.

Write your own extension question and submit it here

Resources

  1. Video of goats climbing an argan tree in Morocco
  2. An article about the goats in the Dam

Find a resource you like and submit it here