Monday , May 29 2023

“A Vote for a Goat” Still True ?

The Daily Herald writes in The Weekender” that question about Saba’s roving goats reached the public menu again this October when it was brought up during a “Sea and Learn” lecture by orchid specialist Dr. Jim Ackerman. “Sea and Learn” is an environment awareness program which brings naturalists and scientists to the island in a program to attract tourists during low season.

The case in hand was the loss of orchids to marauding goats. In addition to his lecture, Ackerman led a field trip down the Sandy Cruz Trail to check the concentration of goats (by counting goat pellets) in the area of a specific orchid, Brassavola cucullata. The mention of losing orchids to wild beasts brings out the saviour in a lot of visitors, but outsiders often have little understanding of the local culture regarding animal husbandry. After the Sandy Cruz survey, Ackerman told Sea and Learn officials that the quick scan was “inconclusive.” Some locals are highly skeptical about the goat as culprit. “I have never seen a goat eat an orchid,” said one goat owner indignantly. Another pointed the finger elsewhere: “Hey, iguanas are also herbivores!” However, Head of Tourism Glenn Holm, who has a remarkable flower garden surrounding his original Windwardside Saba cottage, said adamantly that he had seen goats eat his orchids.

2004 Goat Buy-Back and Saba Island Livestock Ordinance
This goat problem reached critical mass back in 2004. Concerns were growing about the impact of roving goats jeopardizing road safety, spoiling clean water supplies by defecating on water catchments, and eradicating overnight villagers’ small veggie and flower gardens. The Saba tradition of planting vegetables and herbs outside the kitchen door was no longer a sustainable practice. The Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) secured financing to mount a “goat buy-back” program to reduce the number of goats on the island and it did…temporarily. But it was – as one resident later called it in a letter to The Daily Herald – “a Band-Aid solution,” since the problem reoccurred at the next island drought. When the hillsides dry out, goats return to Saba’s four villages to graze. Along with the 2004 Buy-Back program came the Saba Island Ordinance of May 28, 2004. It says livestock must be registered, tagged, and behind fences. But talk – or in this case a written Ordinance – is cheap. There was no implementation to speak of except when two armed gentlemen cleared the goat herd residing on airport grounds. Although the herd was a clear danger to vital air traffic to the island, there was public outrage at the “wild west” approach to conflict resolution, which frightened tourists at the airport.

In most cases, it was pretty clear who owned the goats. Bad feelings mounted between normally friendly neighbors. The ex-pat community, which tends to be more environmentally vocal, was up in arms that government was letting the goats “eat up the island” because of political considerations. Local wags resuscitated the old slogan “a goat is a vote.” It was accepted that local politicians curried favor with livestock holders by going slow on implementing any rules which might seem restrictive to them.

Still unresolved
After 2004, outrages subsided, but outrage is weather dependent in this regard. Things heated up again recently when a drought brought the starving goats back into the villages. The goats were desperate enough to eat even noxious plants (such as oleander and coralita vine) and were particularly aggressive, even blocking the Lower Hell’s Gate road, which is the only road leading to the airport. A Hell’s Gate resident reported that a steely-eyed buck claimed road rights by ramming his sedan. There was no damage, but it was a frightening experience… and it happened more than once.

With the 2010 political reorganization to a different relationship with the Netherlands, new money from Holland became available for nature improvements on the now “Caribbean Netherlands” islands. The current “Green Funds” (Special Funding for Nature) has allocated $2.1 million for Saba, according to Paul Hoetjes, Policy Advisor Agriculture & Fisheries for the Dutch Economic Affairs Ministry. Hoetjes, from Curacao, is well known and respected on Saba. Bonaire, Statia, and Saba are to submit specific projects and all three must be approved before the Green Funds can be released- -meaning that one island could hold the rest hostage. According to Saba Marine Park Manager Kai Wulf, Saba’s Green Funds submission to The Hague has two main parts: the first is to clean up the dumping ground at Tent Reef Bay and the second is to undertake another goat reduction program. The goats would be harvested, certified by local veterinary services, and sold on the market, most probably on St. Maarten.

The current proposal is modeled on 2004 with the SCF again as implementer. As of now, local goat meat consumption is fairly limited and private. Why?—an old timer in The Bottom said this is because no one knows how to cook it properly any more. “It’s an ol’ time religion kind of thing,” he noted philosophically. Scout’s Place is perhaps the only restaurant with it on the published menu. Every now and then an eatery will do a “Caribbean plate special” with goat meat. Special events, such as “Carnival,” might showcase traditional cooking with goat.

What next?
Wulf is convinced that the only way to create some sort of momentum to put the Ordinance to work is to bring all stakeholders together again. “I don’t see police officers out there shooting goats,” Wulf affirmed. Is there political will on Saba to put into practice the2004 Ordinance, which has languished for almost a decade? Saba Commissioner for Agriculture Chris Johnson sees the 2004 Goat Buy-back program as a success. “It’s worked until now,” he offered as proof, but admitted, “It went wrong with Ordinance enforcement.” Johnson recognized that implementation of enforcement is crucial to success and this means stakeholder alignment, which is not easy: “It’s a difficult problem.” In Johnson’s opinion, environment concerns are often hypocritical, such as a Saba “save our feral cats” program, which saved the cats, thereby allowing the cats to continue to feed off and endanger the tropic bird population. Unforeseen consequences or environmental shortsightedness? Saba’s Green Funds proposal is still being finetuned, said Johnson, but he is optimistic that it will go through, with implementation sometime next year. It will certainly be discussed at the regularly scheduled “Caribbean Netherlands” week in Holland in November, the Commissioner added. Johnson is also interested in seeing the development of more sustainable agriculture on Saba in general… might this include goat husbandry?

Last but not least: Saba goat keepers
Local goat keepers seem to have the communal memory regarding how the problem grew: farming replaced by trips to the grocery store, a generally dryer climate which brings goats into the villages, increased laxity on the part of the goat minders, and a bulge in the iguana population (iguana is not a menu item on Saba). Iguanas are possibly over looked in the blame-game. One goat owner said, “Iguanas can scramble up trees and forage there as well as climb over or under fences and,” he added with a touch of Saban humor, “are bold enough to come into your house and eat your sandwich!” Before the tourism boom, goats were brought down to pasture in communal fields that had just been harvested. They were usually tethered. From Flat Point to Hell’s Gate was grass land, but “It’s a jungle now,” said one goat owner, sweeping his pointed finger from the airport to the Hell’s Gate church steeple. There are increasingly fewer planted areas. “It needs careful study,” was the comment. Some owners do not regularly water their herds, it was suggested. One owner said that simply keeping distant watering troughs full might help keep goats out of the villages, but this is not easy given the island’s steep terrain. This owner said he also uses his watering troughs as a delivery system of medicines to deworm his herd and keep it healthy. Tagging is difficult because a special gun is necessary to stun the animals to attach the tag, and the tags provided in 2004 were wrongly sized, according to goat owners. In addition, since the goats were not tagged (and are still not tagged), dishonest hunters slaughtered goats which were not theirs and earned several hundred guilders a morning during the 2004 Buy-Back. There are an estimated 20 goat owners on Saba, and they are concerned about an unconfirmed rumor that stock will be reduced by 80%. Selling goat meat has become an important revenue stream for some Sabans. “It can pay the light bill,” one said. Goat owners say they lose casual labour and construction jobs to outsiders who come to work on Saba for less money. Goat owners want to be included in the discussion and are well aware of their role in reaching a sustainable solution to regulating the goat population. Nevertheless, it will be a challenging task to bring the stakeholders to lasting agreement?

Fireman’s week commenced
High court upholds councils' right to tax dogs


  1. René Caderius van Veen

    Because of this problem I made a net around my garden whis is less visible then a fence. It is less work and less expensive, but it is of course crazy that I had to invest time and money to do this. It is the weakness of the Lt Governor that he does not take the lead in carrying out the old local ordinance (APV) which is still in force.
    In fact I had in mind to send the bill for this fence to the government, because they are responsible for the fact that it is necessary for owners of gardens and for farmers to protect their properties from these illegally roaming goats. But I should have announced that I held the government responsible for my costs before I ordered the net, the wood etc.
    My recommendation now to all farmers and to all owners of gardens is to announce that in the future the bills for making and for maintenance of fences will be sent to the government. If these owners want support juridical support they may contact me.

  2. I seems that the government may tax goats to the extent that the income from the taxes is in relation to the damage that the goats cause to the community (see the next article on sabanews). This money will directly go into the budget of the island government, so benefit all of us.

    There is a good chance that the goat owners solve the problem themselves very fast. Else there is still James.

    Elections are around the corner: one vote for each goat taxed.

  3. René Caderius van Veen

    The best way to force the government to do something to protect the right of the owners of farmland and of gardens is to force them to pay for the investments needed for the protection. The government is responsible for the fact that there are still roaming goats and the Lt Governor is responsible for carrying out what is written in the APV.
    James and the few other hunters with a permit are not capable to kill that many goats. It is the police that is (partly in charge to catch and/or to shoot roaming goats especially near the public roads. It is the Lt governor who is in charge to order them to do so. If there is not enough capacity or when other priorities come first, another soution must be found. I don’t like that subsidies will be asked for to solve the problems created by the local government. Also the abuse of the subsidies in 2004 does not give much of confidence.

  4. René Caderius van Veen

    Do you want to know why the Lt Governor is to blame for the situation? Read the still valid APV (Local Orrdinance)
    APV 1985

    art. 55

    Het is verboden:
a. vee op of langs de openbare weg te laten loslopen.
b. vee op het terrein, bij een ander in gebruik, zonder diens toestemming vast te leggen of te laten rondlopen.
    Het in lid 1 bedoelde vee wordt vanwege het eilandgebied Saba in een schutstal ter bewaring gesteld en indien het binnen acht dagen na mededeling aan de rechthebbende of na openbare bekendmaking niet door de rechthebbende is opgeëist, verkocht.
    Bij teruggave van het in bewaring genomen vee worden de gemaakte kosten teruggevorderd.
    Bij verkoop worden uit de opbrengst betaald de kosten die zijn gemaakt tot opsporing van de rechthebbende.
    De overblijvende gelden worden in de eilandskas gestort en ter beschikking van de rechthebbende gesteld.
    Vee, op de openbare weg loslopend aangetroffen, mag door de politie worden afgemaakt, zo het vangen moeilijkheden oplevert.
    De schutgelden zullen bij eilandsbesluit houdende algemene maatregelen vastgesteld.

    Google translate:
    APV (Local ordinance)

    Art. 55

    It is prohibited:
1. a cattle to roam on or along the road.
 b . capture or let walk around cattle on the property, in use by another without his consent .
    2. The cattle referred to in paragraph 1 will on behalf of the island territory Saba put in a stable for custody and if after notification to the recipient or after public notice it is not claimed by the owner within eight days it will be sold .
    3. On return of the cattle taken into custody , the costs will be recovered.
    4. Upon sale, the costs will be paid incurred to locate the owner.
    5. The remaining funds are deposited in the central cash of the island and made available to the beneficiary .
    6. Cattle, found roaming on the road , may be killed by the police, when catching will cause difficulties .
    7. The costs for the stables for custody will be determined by island decree for general measures.

  5. A small contribution in the discussion about goats or iguanas eating the orchids.
    As you may know, it was me who started the program on the orchid Brassavola cucullata, on Saba also known as Rat’s Tail Orchid. This nice orchid was only known from a very few localities, but it can be found all over the island. Especially on the slopes next to the Spring Bay Trail are growing many hundreds of plants, most of them above 1.50 m from the floor. In all these observed and photographed plants I never found any damage from eating, but as soon as a tree falls down, the orchid plants are eaten by goats.
    In my opinion this proves that iguanas, very well able to climb the trees, don’t eat these orchids, but goats are responsible for the fact that Brassavola hardly can be found below 1.50 m.

  6. In regards to the whole goat issue there are solutions ont eh books but if nobody enforces them it makes no sense at all just talking. But I take issue with the comparison of every goat is a vote. What is being portrayed here that every voter on Saba is considered a goat? Come on throw blame where blame is to be thrown but don’t insutl the people of Saba that way. I have nothing against the goats and the problem to me is not the poor goats but the owners of these goats. Why don’t they organize themselves and have their goats fenced in and really set up a good goat farm. There is much that can be done with these goats. Our problem on Saba is that nobody wants to take responsibility for the goats but hit one and then you see how many owners they has. This goat buy back program will not solve anything. That money could be used to help people fence in their yards and set up some good goat farms on the island and produce goat milk, goat cheese etc, etc. and of course a good Saba goat stew goes down good. My two cents but for God sake don’t consider us as goats for no votes. I personally take great offense with that.

  7. Dave, I appreciate that you take offense to the title of this article if you read as you did. In effect it should have read ” A goat for a vote”. this goes back to the days where the politicians lobbied actively for votes, promising favors in return.

    The owners of the goats have supported those politicians that would let them break the law in return for putting them into office. Such “traditions” are not specific to Saba but are a problem in every small, isolated community.

    Considering the current situation, there are ample indications that this “custom” is still going on in Saba. We need politicians that are elected on the basis of their vision and competences, not on the favors they promise to certain categories of citizens.

    So yes: it is clear the the present Triangle, as the Dutch can describe it so nicely, i.e., the Lt. Governor, the Public prosecutor and the Head of Police, do not uphold the law, although this has been requested explicitly by many people. Unfortunately Saba does also not have elected Council Members that take their responsibility towards the community and demand that the Executives apply the law. This seems to be the case for both parties currently represented in the Council.

    Here is an opportunity for all of us to try to change this in the next elections. However this can only be achieved, if prospect politicians will stand up that really fight for the interest of the community as whole, not who do aim to pamper a few individuals.

    There is a challenge ahead: keep our traditions, but also aim to become a “first world” community and do no remain a “third world” island in this respect.