SABA (THE BOTTOM) – With the project team in place, the Public Entity Saba will start carrying out its goat control project shortly. This project, which is to address the longstanding issue of free-roaming goats on the island, will be executed by the Saba government over a 3-year period through the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV). The project team consists of local coordinator Justin Simmons-de Jong, invasive species specialists Peter Haverson and Alex McDougall, and LNV coordinator Anne de Boer.
The island ordinance of May 28, 2004, which addresses the identification and registration of livestock and domestic animals, regulates the way goats are to be kept. Animal neglect, destruction of property and unlawfully allowing goats to roam free on other persons properties are considered criminal acts under the BES Criminal Law. In November 2019, Saba’s Executive Council made the decision to enforce this legislation through the goat control project.
On Saba, the issue of free-roaming goats is complex, layered and entangled into the very fabric of society. These cloven-hoofed small ruminants touch almost every facet of life on Saba, whether it be cultural, political, agricultural, environmental or even familial.
Therefore it requires a nuanced, practical and multi-strategy approach with the involvement of many stakeholders to resolve this issue. While the main goal of this project is to systemically remove free-roaming goats, 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 erosion. Goat farmers will be supported. Options for assistance will include subsidized fencing materials, medical veterinary care, food supply and access to a livestock specialist for advice.
Planned, methodical manner
For the systemic and humane removal of the free-roaming goats, the Public Entity Saba has brought on board specialists Peter Haverson and Alex McDougall, who come with vast international 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. The removal of animals will be carried out in a methodical and planned manner.
Prior to the start of the removal process, the island will be zoned off to enable a systematic approach to clearing these areas of goats. Public safety in the removal phase is top priority. Residents will be informed via public notices well in advance of the start of the removal of goats in each zone/area.
Owners of free-roaming goats will be given a 3-month grace period, whereby they will be able to remove their animals by shooting them or placing them in pens. During the grace period, the specialists will remove goats in the Saba National Park, which is government owned, and 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 work around the island targeting any remaining roaming animals. Dispatched animals that can be recovered will be used for their meat. Meat storage facilities will be made available to accommodate a higher capacity of goat meat. The need for and setting up of a meat-processing facility/butchery will be investigated and carried out.
Enhancing animal husbandry
The idea behind this project is not to rid the island of its goats, but to encourage and facilitate for a more controlled, sustainable and humane way of raising goats, thereby enhancing animal husbandry and agriculture. 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 a better price.
With the goats removed, this gives residents the opportunity to plant 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.
The project also addresses the aspect of animal abuse and suffering. During the increasing dry periods, wild goats die off in significant numbers due to starvation, malnutrition, dehydration and 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.
The ecological impact of goats on the natural vegetation is considerable: they contribute to and are responsible for the overgrazing of the grass areas. The removing of the protective and natural coverage of the top layer of soil causes erosion. Goats eat seedlings, preventing any expansion of Saba’s forested areas or the growing of trees in the lower coastal areas.
Cases of erosion can be seen all throughout Saba’s lower and coastal areas. Sediment from erosion on land eventually makes its way into surrounding waters, threatening the health of the island’s coral reefs – one of the 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 onto the public road from the above hillsides. 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.