Owners of free-roaming goats on Saba received more information by letter and during a follow-up meeting with the Executive Council on Wednesday, September 16, about the goat control program which is about to start.
In the letter, the owners of the free-roaming goats were informed of the assistance that the Public Entity Saba can offer to allow for a collaborated effort to ensure that the goat owners in question have the opportunity to benefit from the project while the end goal is still reached. The letter addressed and explained many of the points brought forward by the free-roaming goat owners in the first meeting of September 3.
Goat owners were assured during the September 16 meeting and in the letter that was handed out that same day that the Public Entity Saba will provide assistance to goat owners to ensure that all goats are properly fenced with sufficient space, food, water, shelter and provided care. Fencing materials will be made available, as will subsidized goat food and medical veterinary care.
Goat owners can also receive support from government to assist them in controlling and/or removing their roaming goats. Once the shooting of goats starts, goat owners can request help from the specialists to help shoot their goats. Additional manpower will be offered if the goat owners need help to bring the animals’ carcasses back for butchering.
Goat owners were also assured that additional freezer storage capacity and a meat processing facility will be made available to assist them with the meat that will be brought in. Government will purchase two 20-foot freezer containers where goat owners can store their goat meat until it is sold.
Assistance will also be given to goat owners to help them find a suitable market for them to sell their meat abroad. While it is the responsibility of the goat owners to butcher and package the meat, government will take measures to make this process easier and less time-consuming. The meat processing facility should be ready by the end of this year.
On September 3, the Executive Council met with the owners of free-roaming goats where the owners made use of the opportunity to voice their concerns about the project. Some suggestions were presented, such as the possibility to find a middle-ground solution whereby a limited number of goats could be kept free in the wild so that the hunting of these animals can continue.
Allowing goats to roam free in nature will not be possible for several reasons, the goat owners were informed. Firstly, it is against the law to allow goats to roam freely: goats need to be fenced in, registered and tagged. The 2004 island ordinance, the BES Criminal Law and Civil Codes clearly state this. It is strictly prohibited for goat owners to allow their animals to roam on land that has not been designated and fenced off for this specific purpose.
Secondly, allowing even a small number of goats to free-roam would stand in the way of a sustainable solution to the goat problem, and the associated adverse consequences, such as erosion and the damage to nature and people’s yards.
Allowing a minor number of goats to roam-free would require an intensive management system, maintained and enforced by a fulltime government hunter for which the Public Entity Saba lacks the required funding.
It was explained to the goat owners that in practice, it would be even more difficult to control just a few free-roaming goats. To start with, the animals would have to be caught and tagged. With more vegetation available, the few goats would retreat even further into the wild, making it even more challenging for the owners to find them and ultimately cull them. Over a relatively short period of time this would again result in an increase in numbers.
It is impossible to effectively control and manage goats that are not fenced in. This has been proven time upon time by the surge in the island’s goat population, the yearly influx of goats entering residential areas, destroying private property and the overgrazing of land. This has led to long-term damage to Saba’s vegetation and ultimately to widespread erosion, which in itself creates public safety hazards.
It was also explained in the letter that in September 2019, the Public Entity Saba announced that it would carry out a goat control project in 2020. Late August 2020, a three-month grace period was announced. During this grace period, which starts on October 1, 2020, goat owners can remove their animals on their own account. Assistance is available in this period to remove roaming goats in residential areas. During grace period, removal of free-roaming will start in the Mt. Scenery National Park and along the Fort Bay road area. The possibility to also start with the removal of goats in the residential areas, such as The Bottom, during this time is also being looked into. When the grace period ends on January 1, 2021, the Public Entity Saba will proceed with the removal of the remaining roaming goats in the different zones throughout the island.
Under certain conditions, goat owners may be granted additional time of up to three months to remove their animals if, due to exceptional circumstances, they were unable to remove their animals before the expiration of the grace period. Goat owners were informed how and under which conditions to apply for this extension.
Once the specialists, the persons who have been appointed by government to cull the goats, come to a zone, it will be closed off for public safety, in collaboration with local police. The Public Entity Saba recognized that the changes through the goat control project are hard to embrace for the goat owners. That is why many forms of assistance are being offered to ensure a smooth transition from keeping goats in the wild to keeping them in a responsible manner and properly enclosed.