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Public Entity Saba launches its goat control project

With its project team in place, the Public Entity Saba will carry out its goat control project. This project, which is to address the longstanding issue of free-roaming goats on the island, will be executed by the Saba government over 3 years through the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV).

An all too common sight on Saba: a small herd of free-roaming goats grazing in the middle of the island’s capital, The Bottom.

Based on the island ordinance of May 28, 2004, which addresses the identification and registration of livestock and domestic animals, the way goats are to be kept is regulated. Imported goats must be tagged and may only be kept on fenced lands belonging to the livestock farmer, which are designated for that purpose, or that is leased or given to the farmer for use for that purpose. In addition to this, based on several articles in the BES criminal code, animal neglect, destruction of property, and unlawfully allowing goats to roam free on other persons’ properties are considered criminal acts that can lead to prosecution. In November of 2019, the Executive Council of the Public Entity Saba made the decision to enforce this legislation through the goat control project.

Goals of the project

On Saba, the issue of free-roaming goats is complex, layered and entangled into the very fabric of the Saban society. These cloven-hoofed small ruminants touch almost every facet of life on Saba, whether it be cultural, political, agricultural, environmental, or even familial. It, therefore, requires a nuanced, practical, and multi-strategy approach with the involvement of many stakeholders to resolve this issue. While the primary goal of this project is to remove free-roaming goats from the island systemically, it equally aims to improve and support sustainable goat farming and develop agriculture on Saba. Other positive outcomes of this project will include improved animal welfare, increased production of fresh, local produce, recovery, and restoration of Saba’s natural vegetation and tackling the island’s erosion.

Phased approach

In the coming week(s), local coordinator Simmons-de Jong will meet with all goat owners on the island. The purpose of these stakeholder consultations will be to (1) inform the goat owners about the necessary changes of keeping goats in the future, (2) to gather information and assess which farmers want to shift toward raising goats in a more controlled and sustainable manner and (3) to discuss with each goat owner what their future farming business plan could look like and what investments they have to make themselves. The information collected will be used to determine the needs and goals of the goat farmers on Saba and how they can be supported through this project to reach their goals. Options for assistance will include subsidized fencing materials, veterinary medical care, food supply, and access to a livestock specialist for advice on the rearing of captive goats. It is still being investigated how assistance for goat food can be provided to farmers, whether through a structural subsidy, the formation of a goat farmers/agricultural cooperative, or even through local production.

For the systemic and humane removal of Saba’s free-roaming goats, the Public Entity Saba has brought onboard specialists who come with vast international and proven experience in the removal of roaming livestock and invasive species. Due to the complexity and harshness of Saba’s topography and the nature of goats, the globally-proven and recognized method for the removal of these animals is through the use of firearms. Other tactics, however, may also be utilized throughout the project. The removal of these animals will be carried out in a methodical and planned manner.

Prior to the start of the removal process, the plan of approach will be to zone off the island to enable a systematic approach to clearing these areas of goats. The project team will work with the Saba Land Registry for a zoned map, showing registered land ownership in each of the zoned areas. Each zone will be tackled on an individual basis.

Grace period

Owners of free-roaming goats will be given a 3-month grace period, whereby they will be able to remove their own free-roaming animals through the currently used method of harvesting through shooting or live capture where the animals are placed in pens. During the grace period, the specialists will already start removing goats in the Saba National Park, which is government owned. This will be for the first two months of the grace period. In the remaining month, the specialists will focus on removing goats along the Fort Bay road, which, due to the severity of erosion and rock fall in this area, is considered a public safety hazard. After this 3-month period, the specialists will then work around the island targeting any remaining roaming animals.

The main focus of the specialists is to remove free-roaming goats. Dispatched animals that can be recovered will be used for their meat and the selling thereof. Owners of free-roaming goats will be able to work with the specialists to recover their animals that are dispatched. Meat storage facilities will be made available to accommodate a higher capacity of goat meat. Through this project, the need for and setting up of a meat-processing facility/butchery will be investigated and carried out. Animals that cannot be recovered due to the terrain and those that are far outside of the residential areas will be left to decompose as they would naturally in the wild. Animals which are dispatched closer to residential areas and whose meat cannot be used will be disposed of in as a hygienic manner as possible. For this, the project team will liaise with Saba’s waste management facility.

Public safety

Public safety in the removal phase of the project is top priority. Saba residents will be informed via public notices well in advance of the start of the removal of goats in each zone/area, whereby appropriate dates and times will be publicized through various platforms to reach all affected residents. All plans will be coordinated with the local authorities. As an added safety measure, goats that are in built-up, residential areas will be removed through live capture by luring them with food. To consider the welfare of these animals and their humane removal, the specialists will use appropriate firearms, ammunition, shooting techniques and safety measures. The specialists will also use sound moderators to minimize disturbance.

The idea behind this project is not to rid the island of its local goats, but to encourage and facilitate for a more controlled, sustainable and humane way of raising goats, thereby enhancing animal husbandry and agriculture in all forms on Saba. Raising goats in such a manner will allow for an overall better-quality meat product, which farmers can sell locally or export to neighboring islands for consumption for a better price. With the goats removed, this gives the residents of Saba the opportunity to return to the land and start planting their own fruit and vegetable gardens to increase local food production – something that was traditionally done in the past but proven impractical with the current roaming goats issue. A shift toward self-sustainability from a food production and supply perspective is needed, as the supply chain systems Sabans rely on and take for granted are vulnerable. This was made evident by the coronavirus pandemic.

Responsible and humane care

Goats, on average, require 2-3 gallons of water and about 2-4 pounds of food per day. Each year, Saba sees longer and more frequent dry seasons. During droughts, these animals subsist off what little forage there is available and maintain hydration through the water in the plants they eat, as Saba has no natural available water sources. In these times, the wild goats die off in significant numbers due to starvation, malnutrition, dehydration and ecto and endo-parasitic infestations. With access to subsidized veterinary care and assistance with goat food, goat owners will be able to provide their animals with quality care, thereby improving the humane treatment of goats on the island.

Erosion on Saba

Goats, by nature, are browsers, eating a wide variety of grasses, shrubs and trees. On Saba, their ecological impact on the natural vegetation is considerable: they contribute to and are responsible for the overgrazing of Saba’s grass areas. Through overgrazing they remove the protective and natural coverage of the top layer of soil, thereby causing erosion. Seedlings that take root and begin to grow are quickly eaten and killed by these goats. This prevents any expansion of Saba’s forested areas or growing of trees in the island’s lower coastal areas. With the wild goats removed from these areas, Saba’s forests, grass areas and natural landscape can begin to recover and expand.

With poor grass coverage and inadequate root systems in place, the top layer of soil erodes. Over time and in combination with weathering (and other factors), erosion becomes severer. Such cases of erosion can be seen all throughout the lower and coastal areas of Saba. Sediment from erosion on land eventually makes its way into Saba’s surrounding waters, threatening the health of the island’s coral reefs – one of Saba’s main tourist attractions and home to a wealth of marine biodiversity. This project is an important measure to execute the Coral Restoration Plan, which is part of the Nature and Environment Policy Plan for the Caribbean Netherlands 2020-2030.

Erosion on Saba is not only an ecological issue, it is also a public safety issue. Drivers often have to swerve onto the next side of the road to avoid driving over rocks that have rolled down into the public road from the above hillsides. This creates an unsafe situation for both drivers and pedestrians. There have been instances where large rocks have smashed into passing cars and, in one instance, into a residential home.

Through this project, Saba will address several environmental issues, while enhancing its agricultural sector for the further development of a more self-sustainable island. St. Eustatius will also execute a free-roaming animal control project. Both islands plan to cooperate in their shared project goals.

GIS.

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