Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Killing Goats and Fighting Fishermen In the Galapagos Islands

It all started innocently enough.  In 1959, fishermen released three goats on the island of Pinta, one of the isolated, rocky islands in the Galapagos Archipelago about 800 miles off the coast of Ecuador.  The idea would be to hunt the goats if need be, presumably as a backup if they couldn't catch fish - no one would confuse goat for fish.  The goats did what goats do, so that by the 1970s those three goats had turned into 40,000 and the island's vegetation was being destroyed.

The story is from Modern Farmer, not one of my regular reads, so hat tip to the Ammo.com newsletter.

Goats have a well-known reputation for their voracious appetite, so much that they're bought for clearing brush and destroying invasive weeds.  That's OK if it's managed, but a herd of goats in a delicate place like the Galapagos turns into more change than ecologists can bear (really, preservationists, not ecologists, but that's another rant for another day).

By 1997, the Galapagos goat population had reached six figures. To fight back, an NGO called the Galapagos Conservancy convinced the Ecuadoran government to wage an extermination campaign against the goats.  A massive, multi-agency project called Project Isabela was launched.  Platoons of goat-hunters scoured three islands, on foot and in helicopters. The method of killing? A clean shot to the head or the heart. 
“It can be hard to see so many goats lying dead out there,” says Dr. Linda Cayot, science advisor for the Galapagos Conservancy. “But those goats were destroying the habitat of the tortoises. In my heart and mind are the tortoises.”
“...so many goats lying dead out there”?  Yes.  The groups involved decided that the goats were the embodiment of all the nutrients the ecosystem produced.  If the goats were harvested and the meat shipped back to the mainland, those nutrients would be taken away from the Galapagos.  They decided the only right thing to do was to "recycle" those nutrients by leaving the goat carcasses to rot away.  (They say a handful of goats were consumed by the eradication team, but not many).

Since the whole problem started with three goats, there was only one possible outcome.  Only one way to be sure.  The eradication had to be total; every single goat had to be killed.
For Project Isabela to be a success, it required total eradication. “It took the same effort to get rid of the last 5 percent as it did for the first 95 percent,” says Cayot. To get rid of the stragglers, the team employed something called a “Judas goat.”

Judas goats were sterilized and injected with hormones to make them permanently in estrus (heat). These unwitting traitors were then set free around the islands, irresistible bait for the fugitives. By 2006, Project Isabela had eliminated all goats from the target areas.
There are still small problems here and there.  Some of the few locals like to hunt the goats and want some around.   More oddly the goats have become a political football.  When local fishermen are displeased with government fishing regulation, scientists say they retaliate by releasing new goats on the islands. “It’s reintroduction as a malicious act; a way to spite the park service.” 

The conservationists are aware they might have a PR problem with their fans and monetary donors.  Goats are cute and furry and every honest preservationist will tell you it's easier to fund raise for cute, fuzzy little animals than ugly ones.  Ever seen a "Save the Blobfish" fundraiser?  If their average supporter knew they were funding a goat genocide, well that might not go over well.  Last words to Dr. Karl Campbell, the field manager who ran Project Isabela’s operations.
“We don’t want to put a cute face to an invasive species.We focus on the outcomes, letting people see how good the islands look once the goats are gone.”
Galapagos goats being goats.  Photograph by Josh Donlan


14 comments:

  1. Goats were released on a lot of islands to provide sailors food. The Galapagos are such a unique place that it was a bad move there. But all's well that ends well.

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  2. In college I had an anthropology professor who would go on and on about how destructive goats were. It was his belief that it was goats turned much of the land around the Mediterranean into desert.

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  3. Years ago some fool dropped off a breeding pair of tax-eaters on a ranch in Maryland ten miles on a side. Same result.

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    1. If only they WERE goats, it wouldn't be so bad. Instead, it was a breeding pair of poisonous vipers that they dropped off. And they were designated as an endangered species. following the standard precedent from the Red Greenies everywhere.

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    2. And what's far worse is that they also dropped off a whole pack of Presa Canario dogs to protect those vipers.

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  4. On goats.
    In the Northwest Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho exists land and climate that is ideal for growing grass to produce seed for lawns, e.g., Bluegrass. One problem after harvesting the land must be burned of stubble before a new crop (of any variety) can be raised. Burning of fields of course now is verboten by the geniuses in both Washington and Idaho with few exceptions. Enter goats. Semi trailers arrive at a stubble field and hundreds of goats are released, a handful of herding dogs, and ONE Presa Canario dog to protect the herding dogs and goats. Presa Canario dogs have to be seen up close to be believed as they would intimidate Mike Tyson in his prime. Two Basques were there also to manage things. The acres of stubble are gone in a few days and the land was ready for NH3 then planting and resembled moon scape.

    Dan Kurt

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    1. Thanks for that vivid story.

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    2. I take it the Presa Canario is there to protect the dogs and goats from illegal alien invaders and Muslims?

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  5. OK, I'm thinking win-win here. Set up hunting tours for American hunters to go there and hunt goats. Enlist half a dozen or so illegal aliens who are now working in American meat packing companies to process the meat. Put a boat off shore with a bunch of freezers in them. Kill off a boat load of goats ship the boats to Venezuela and feed those poor starving serfs of a socialist country. Repeat until the goats are all gone.

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    1. Why on earth would you do that "until the goats are all gone."???

      It would be smarter to cull down to a small number, and then return in a few years to repeat the process. That way the undergrowth on the island is controlled, and the fishermen have a source of food in case of bad times. Their initial idea was good. It's just that they forgot - or refused - to manage the situation.

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    2. Because feral goats do not belong there.

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    3. And humans do not belong where you are living either, Anonymous at 10:03 AM, because no humans were in the Americas until the invasion. Will you do YOUR part? Or are you only willing to bitch about everyone and everything else?

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  6. Ah! The "B" word. You must really be angry or something. No the goats do not belong. The underbrush does belong. You are wrong. Bitch about that if you are so inclined.

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    1. Falling back to the fake news standard, eh?

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