Goat Menace in the Galapagos Islands

By Anupum Pant

Just two of the many remote archipelagos of the Galapagos islands in the Pacific ocean are home to some of the most magnificent creatures here on earth – The Galapagos tortoises. These are giant tortoises that can weigh up to 300 kg and usually go on to live for more than 100 years, even up to 170 years in rare cases.

Only thing, their existence is now threatened. About 1,500 exist today. Back in the day, some hundreds of years back, it is estimated that there used to be as many as 250,000 such tortoises living in the Galapagos archipelagos. But thanks to the passing sailors of the yore, these beautiful reptiles  got massacred for oil and food. That caused a massive decline around the 70s and now we have the results.

That’s not all these sailors did. They also introduced several non native species into the islands. Goats were one of them – the most relevant ones in this context. These goats multiplied like wild fire and soon there were tens of thousands of goats finishing off vegetation in the islands. In the islands they were never even supposed to be in the first place. This corrupted the ecological balance and proved to be a menace for the existence of giant tortoises. As if we already had too many to lose.

Concerned conservationists wanted to fix this. For that they devised a not very pretty technique to accomplish the task. Goats had to be gone.

Sharpshooters were brought in from New Zealand. Judas goats, with GPS collars were prepared and released into the island. While these spy goats were searching for a pack of goats to socialize with, the sharpshooters were being flown in helicopters, tracking the judas goats to the pack of goats. Packs were located this way, sharpsooters individually shot each one of the pack members and let the GPS equipped goat go away to find them another such group of goats.

The video below is not for the weak hearted. Also, there’s a one hour long radiolab episode which talks in detail about this situation, attached below the video.

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