Goats: The Ignored Environmental Destroyers

Thanks Argus


Comment by Argus:

Date: 1/27/05

Goats eat vegetation, lots of it. That is why large areas look like desert. Greenies complain about SUVs buggering up the environment but not about goats which do far more harm. Of course SUVs are owned by Americans and goats are owned by the poor, millions of the swine.

The source is a queer and townie so his view is not authoritative but he could easily be right.



Another Voice

Kill a goat if you want to save the planet

Matthew Parris

Not every problem the world faces is intractable. Big questions may suggest simple answers. Here is one. It is time to exterminate the common goat. It is time to wipe Capra aegagrus from the face of the Earth. It is time to make goats extinct.

The common goat is more destructive of the ecological balance of our planet than any other single cause — and I do include global warming. I write this in an aeroplane high above Sudan on a flight returning from a fortnight in Ethiopia. My journeys this January in the Horn of Africa have reminded me of the incalculable damage the free-range goat is doing to natural environments right across the Third World, where Capra aegagrus, the domestic goat, has been appointed hunter-gatherer to the human race: mindless, ubiquitous and pitiless in its voracity.

If an American corporation with links to Dick Cheney were doing in one small corner of the developing world what goats are doing across tens of millions of square miles of it, our rage would be boundless. But because the goat is thought to be in some vague sense a part of ‘nature’ (it isn’t: it’s a genetically modified plant-Hoover, bred by humans, most of whose natural predators have been shot) we sigh and hope for better rains next year. Let me remind those readers who have never watched a herd in action just how this single-minded destroyer of anything green goes about its devastating work.

Goats will eat almost anything. No shoot is too small, no thorn too sparse and brown to escape their attention. Unlike cows, llamas and sheep they do not naturally bunch together in a herd which can be easily contained and directed, but fan out in all directions, each goat on a solo mission to seek out and destroy. Fences mean nothing to them, hedges are food, stone walls are climbing frames. Every goat is possessed by a burning ambition to go where no other goat has gone before. Look into the eyes of a goat, and an intelligent being, determined to outsmart you, looks back. I have seen goats clambering up car-bonnets. I have been awoken by the clatter of goats on my roof.

Own a herd of these rank-smelling weapons of mass destruction and you can set aside your plough. Meanwhile your neighbour will be forced to set aside his. Why labour under the hot sun, hoeing, weeding, watering, cultivating fodder, growing vegetables and corn, and harvesting the crop, when the goat will do all your work for you? Weeds and foliage are all it needs and while you doze in the shade it will comb a radius of many miles to find them. Nor will it confine itself to land within your ownership. It is a stranger to land-ownership. It asks for no shelter, finds its own water, and devotes its life, intelligence and energy to gathering whatever grows within a day’s walk of your hut and delivering it to you, effortlessly converted into milk, hide, tender kids for your table, and finally its own body: a slap-up meal for friends and family, or a benefit in kind to be traded or sold in the market.

Unfortunately, therefore, the world’s rural poor have become enormously dependent on goats, while for the kindliest of motives we rich tend to look away. Millions of media hours are spent deploring the habits of the gas-guzzlers of Texas; few care, however, to question the lifestyles of the goat-herding communities of the Middle East, the Mediterranean or North Africa.

But the degradation of our planet owes as much to the poor as to the rich. Notions of folk-environmentalism peddled by urban romantics — the idea that peasants close to the land are inhabited by a natural wisdom and ecological foresight denied the rest of us — are fanciful. A million small-scale farming operations satisfying individually modest needs can wreck a landscape and extinguish every competing variety of bird, animal, insect and plant life. Hunger is no steward of river, land and forest, and the poor may ravage their environment more cruelly than those of us who enjoy the luxury of treating outdoors as a kind of garden. Thus have the poor and their goats teemed beneath the radar of our environmental surveillance systems, and daily destroy more land than rising sea-levels will ever do.

You or I can keep a goat (tethered) and my Derbyshire neighbours Simon and Carol can tend their attractive little herd of rare- breed goats securely fenced, and do no harm to man or beast. But set that plant-killer loose in the desperately fragile environment of the Danakil desert in Ethiopia, whence I have just returned, and within a year ten square miles of land will be devastated; acacia, palm, aloe and salt-grass nibbled down to brown and dying stumps; and every new blade to venture above the dust ripped away.

Once goats have mown down the ground-cover of an area, natural reseeding, let alone reforestation, can never get started. The more they multiply and eat, the barer becomes the ground, and the hungrier they get. As their voracity increases, so does the thoroughness with which they find and take every new seedling. Insect, bird and animal life dependent on plants begins to collapse too. Then, when it rains, the soil erodes into gullies and begins to wash away. (I wonder what calculations the global warming industry has made of the relative contributions to sea- level-rise of ice-melt versus soil-dump. I find it hard to believe they know.)

And there is worse. Goats break down effective systems of human land-ownership, or inhibit their growth. Goats being blind to land-tenure, their owners must be so too; all land becomes common land. Goat-tenure replaces land-tenure and you are judged by your herd, not your acreage. Any peasant minded to sow, tend and harvest a crop faces an uphill struggle to fence his patch against marauding goats. In the Danakil desert last week I saw poor and hungry Afar tribespeople living near what should have been oases — there was water beneath the surface, and wells — but which were uncultivated and bare even of palms.

Which brings me to an awkward point. There were too many Afar people in the Danakil depression, which is desert surrounded by semi-desert. It seemed vast and empty, but as soon as you stopped curious Afars would materialise, and their goats would not be far behind. These super-efficient machines were supporting a human population too high for this environment to bear sustainably. Here and on higher ground what trees there were looked 30 years old or more; there were few saplings.

Goats need eliminating, land needs enclosing, and there must be fewer people. Bold, yes, but the green lobby keeps telling us we must not be timid if the planet is to be saved. They have Texan gas-guzzlers in their sights. I have goats.

Matthew Parris is a political columnist of the Times.




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