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Hawai‘i’s Feral Goats: Cute—But Destructive

May 26, 2017, 9:45 AM HST
* Updated May 26, 7:51 AM
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Prior to 1778, there were no goats on any of the Hawaiian Islands. It was upon the arrival of Captain Cook and Captain Vancouver that goats were introduced to the islands.

It is believed that the first goats were brought on shore in the Kealakekua Bay area of Kona.

Originally given as gifts to the Hawaiian people, these domesticated animals eventually escaped and rapidly reproduced, creating large populations of wild goats that live in the semi-barren lava fields or mountain slopes on the islands.

They can now be found on all major Hawaiian Islands.

Goats can live anywhere from sea level up to the 9,000-foot elevation.

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Preferring the dryer habitats, they can be easily spotted as you drive over the Saddle Road or on upper and lower roads on the west side of the Big Island.

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As with the introduction of other animals here to the Hawaiian islands that are not indigenous, the goat was introduced with the best of intentions. However, Hawai‘i’s delicate ecosystem proved to be no match for these animals unquenchable hunger.

Wild goats, along with wild pigs, are responsible for the extinction of many native plants. And with the extinction of native plants comes the extinction of native wildlife.

In the late 1970s, it was estimated that over 15,000 goats were living in the Hawaii Volcano National Park. It was evident to those who worked in the park that the goats were responsible for the destruction of areas in the park, as well as the lost of several native plant species.

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The park created a long-term plan to reduce the number of goats that lived in the park—construction and maintenance of a goat-proof boundary, organized goat drives and hunts, and a program to monitor vegetation.

Their plan worked; to date, there are less than 100 goats living in the park. The native plant population has begun to thrive once the wild goats were removed from the area.

On Hawai‘i Island, goat hunting is allowed year-round in some areas and during part of the year in other areas.

Many hunting enthusiasts continue to hunt for goat and utilize the meat they catch to supplement their families dietary needs.

Goats can also pose a danger to drivers. It is wise to always be careful when you see goats along roadsides. They are known to cross busy roads.

While wildlife authorities have considered completely eradicating these animals from our island, it looks like, at least for now, that the wily, wild Hawaiian goat is here to stay.

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