Staff at the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops are mourning the sudden death of a beloved mountain goat who was killed by lightning this week.
Gustav had become a favourite among workers and guests alike at the park after arriving as an orphan in May 2018, when he was just a few weeks old.
He had been found wandering alone, along a road in Kaslo, B.C., by a group of hikers, and was cared for by a local ranger before being transferred to the park for rehabilitation.
Tracy Reynolds, animal care manager at the BC Wildlife Park, had taken care of Gustav ever since.
“We had to do round-the-clock care for him, feeding him milk every two hours,” she said. “Against all odds, he survived . . . my family got very attached to him, but he saw me as mom.”
Reynolds says she took that role seriously, even going to extreme lengths to get Gustav to move from milk to more solid foods.
“I had to teach him how to eat grass,” she said. “I’d put grass in front of him, and nothing. Finally, I started chewing the grass myself and chewing alfalfa. He would smell my mouth, and then he would try it.
“I felt a little silly, but it worked. He needed me to try it first.”
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Even after placing the young animal with a “nanny sheep” named Dave to help Gustav “learn how to be a goat,” Reynolds says their bond never wavered.
“Even after I separated myself from him a bit, he was still very close to me,” she said. “He never lost that.”
On Tuesday, an intense lightning storm rolled through the Southern Interior. Environment Canada recorded more than 4,000 strikes in the Okanagan region alone.
The next morning, Reynolds found Gustav motionless in his enclosure. A necropsy quickly determined what had happened.
“During a storm, they like to find something comfortable,” she said. “He was probably leaning up against the fence . . . and it just passed through him.
“This is extremely rare, it’s certainly never happened here before. It does occur, and I’ve talked to ranchers who have stories, but . . . I know it won’t happen again in our lifetime.”
Staff at the park say hearing the news was difficult.
“It’s still very fresh,” Julie Ratcliff said. “We all just have our moments throughout the day, and we take turns coming up to Gustav’s enclosure to remember him as the spunky, feisty mountain goat he was.”
As tough as the loss is for everyone at the park, Reynolds says she takes comfort knowing there was nothing she could have done to prevent it.
She’s also overwhelmed by the love and support she’s received from guests at the park.
“It’s hard, for sure,” she said. “I had so much hope for him; he was such a fun animal.”