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While much of the world celebrates the first day of January as the start of a New Year, for many people that day isn’t recognized until weeks later; and each year, on a different date. Time, as Albert Einstein discovered, is relative.

The Chinese New Year observes a lunisolar timetable, associated with movements of both the sun and the moon, and the holiday celebrations are not just one day (or one long night), but begin on the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar, continuing through the 15th day of the first month. Which makes for quite a long party, sometimes referred to as “Lunar New Year’ or the ‘Spring Festival’, filled with special foods and fireworks and exchanging gifts; and probably concludes with an even longer after-party recovery. A centuries-long tradition among those who follow the Chinese calendar is to associate each year with an animal, and it’s believed those born in that year personify behaviors and characteristics reflecting one of a dozen animals that cycle through every twelve-year span. This year, 2015 (or 2129 on the Chinese calendar), is the Year of the Goat.

Which his great if you’re born in a Year of the Goat (2003, 1991, 1979 and every 12 years previous) – or if you, yourself, actually are a goat – but not so good if you’re trying to tell a story about wildlife in America, as there are actually no goats native to the ‘new world’; in fact, all nine species of true goat belong to the genus Capra, originating from Europe, Asia and northern Africa. Of course America can boast of the native Rocky Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus) , which does look and act something like a goat, but is actually a completely different (although distantly related) species and this shaggy-white, stocky mountain-climber isn’t exactly what best describes most people’s idea of a typical goat. In what might be a great disappointment to individual Rocky Goats, the animals’ name translates to oros “mountain” and amnos “lamb”, not a craving for chocolate and cream sandwich cookies.

The goat we most commonly know today is the Domestic Goat (Capra aegagrus hircus), sharing the family Bovidae along with bison, antelope, gazelle, cattle and closely related to the many species of sheep (Ovis sp.). It’s believed goats were first domesticated almost 10,000 years ago, for milk, meat and possibly companionship (sorry, dogs), yet the goat of today will easily become feral – revert back to his wild ancestory – if given a chance. This doesn’t mean they will suddenly grow shaggy hair and live in caves, but rather they will wonder off into the wilderness, not giving humans a second thought. The only other animal that so readily abandons civilization is the domestic cat, but they veer more toward the predatory ‘everyone for himself’ type of wild behavior, rather than the goats ‘lets just wonder around and see what we can find’ approach.

If it's my birthday where's the cake?  My favorite is strawsberry.

If it’s my birthday where’s the cake? My favorite is strawsberry.

While much of Americas’ wildlife may have migrated from Europe and Asia under their own power, goats (along with sheep and horses and cattle) almost certainly were brought by early explorers. In the 1500’s, not long after Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ America, Spanish colonists and adventurers traveled to the new land bringing along familiar and dependable animals from Europe. Who knew what monstrous creatures the new world might reveal, and no one wanted to try and get milk from a dragon. Over time, these hardy animals – today known as a distinct and desirable breed, the ‘Spanish Goat’ – grew to the millions through large-herd ranching; goats kept by farmers for milk; pets; and even show-breeding where people watch goats; and watch-goats where goats watch people (the difference being show-goats are bred and raised to look and perform the best in show competitions; while watch-goats, placed among sheep and other animals, are usually the first to give an alarm call). All the while feral goat populations spread wherever they could, even showing up in unpredictable locations like every island of Hawaii.

While every goat in America is today not from the americas (and still more goat species are being imported for unique characteristics); that doesn’t mean goats are un-american. The mascot of the US Naval Academy is a goat; and it’s ironic that one of the most successful ways to control invasive, non-native plants in wild areas such as parks and environmentally sensitive areas is through the grazing of non-native goats. Plants and greenery that can be dangerous or deadly to other livestock goats gladly gobble, and are performing work that, literally, no one else can do. So if this is your birth year, you can be proud to be associated with one of the hardest-working, yet under-appreciated animals. And if you’re a goat, we all owe you a debt of gratitude. Although you’d probably just prefer a snack.

http://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/mammals/hoofedmammals/domesticgoat/

http://www.usna.edu/PAO/faq_pages/BilltheGoat.php

^^^

Michonne Says: I’ve never met many goats, but the ones I have think they’re pretty special already so I don’t know why they should get their own year. It’s much better to be a marmot because we have long furry tails and can dig holes and climb rocks and have beautiful whistling voices. Goats don’t have any of that. Except maybe the climbing part, but they climb trees and that’s just strange.

Posted February 22, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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