Home News The island wants to round up wild goats. Catching them is not...

The island wants to round up wild goats. Catching them is not an easy task.


Come June, a crack team of wildlife experts planned to swarm the volcanic cliffs and natural caves of a small Mediterranean island to snare a species that had gotten out of control: the wild goat.

It is the first step in clearing Alicudi, an island on the northern coast of Sicily, of hundreds of wild goats that have squeezed out the lives of its 100 or so year-round residents so that the animals can be adopted elsewhere.

“We are all for goats running free, but let’s be clear: These are not Heidi’s little goats,” said Carolina Barnao, a councillor for neighbouring Lipari, which administers the Aeolian Islands. “Some of them could even become dangerous.”

After being captured in Alicudi, the goats will be herded into pens near the island’s port, tested for diseases and hoisted onto ships bound for Sicily, where they will spend two months in quarantine. They will then be adopted and taken to greener pastures.

But the truth is not as simple as it sounds.

For one thing, goats are fast and can leap 10 feet in a single bound, said Giovanni Dell’Acqua, the regional government official in charge of the project. They can weigh up to 175 pounds, he said, “think about what that means.”

Mr. Dellacqua said that while the goats were being held on Alicudi Island for “the shortest possible time,” officials had not yet fully determined which vessel would be used to safely transport the goats to the mainland.

“Believe me,” he said, “catching goats on an island like Alicudi is an uphill battle.”

Alicudi, two square miles in area, is the least populated and most remote of the seven Aeolian Islands off the northern coast of Sicily. Lacking cars and many other amenities, donkeys still deliver supplies on dirt roads, which are measured in steps from the port.

“The charm of the islands is that there is nothing there,” said Pietro Lo Cascio, a zoologist and nature guide in the Aeolian Islands.

The goats arrived on the island about 35 years ago when an islander sought to supplement his food supply from the mainland. The goats once escaped and were left to forage for food on the rugged terrain of the dormant volcano.

It wasn’t long before the ruminants outnumbered humans, feasting on tourists’ summer memories, but locals grew increasingly annoyed as the goats encroached on their gardens and fruit trees and hopped along the traditional dry-stone walls that once formed the island’s terraces, knocking many of them down.

Over the years, the goats have grown bolder, migrating from the top of the island to lower, inhabited areas in search of dwindling food supplies — “even people’s homes,” said Ms. Barno, the city councillor whose animal rights duties include overseeing the goat giveaways.

Although Alicudi is a nature reserve, the surge in goat population has put the island’s biodiversity at risk.

Mr. Lo Cascio said he He warned of the growing goat population in 2008 when he was a member of Lipari city council. He estimated there were 200 to 300 goats on Alicudi at the time.

last year, Population Census 600 goats were counted, giving a goat-to-human ratio of 6:1, but Mr Lo Cascio suspects the actual ratio is even higher.

He said the situation “could have been fixed with very little effort if action had been taken years ago. But today, it’s a disaster.”

However, Ms. Barnao said that this year the district administration and local administration have launched the “Adopt a Goat” scheme through announcementrequests for goats far outstripped the number of available animals.

Wildlife experts will try to capture as many goats as possible before the tourist season begins in mid-June.

Ms. Banaou said captured animals would be tagged so officials could keep track of “their fate.” If the initiative is successful, she said, it could be replicated in other Aeolian islands.

But not everyone thinks killing goats is a good idea.

“They could have found a less cruel solution” than removing the goats from their familiar territory, said Lorenzo Croce of the animal rights group Aidaa, which has filed a legal challenge in the hope that local prosecutors and a regional court will block the gift.

Ida had suggested sending the goats to a sanctuary in Italy that takes in animals saved from slaughter. “They have the right to die peacefully at the end of their lives,” Mr Cross said. But he said the proposal was rejected.

Mourad Rekik, a small ruminant expert at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), said the introduction of wild goats into domesticated sheep flocks “is usually fairly smooth”.

Mr Rekik warned that catching wild billy goats could be a particular challenge – and, if their horns had already grown out, “a bit dangerous for the person who’s catching them”. “These animals may be able to defend themselves,” he said.

Mr. De Laqua said if the goats escaped capture, the rescue team might have to “go to Plan B,” which is to shoot them with authorization.

In fact, Mr. Delaqua said, many locals have resorted to some form of population control, such as shooting and eating the goats. “I can assure you that their freezers are full of goats,” he said.

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