Tiny Island's Crisis: Goats

Greek island of Samothraki is overrun by the critters, facing erosion crisis
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 6, 2019 9:55 AM CDT
This Tiny Island Has Gone to the Goats
In this Sept. 8, 2019, photo, Chora village is seen on Samothraki island, Greece. Goat herding is a way of life on Samothraki, a hard-to-reach Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea, but experts and locals are working together to control the animal population that has left its mountains barren.   (AP Photo/Iliana Mier)

With oak and chestnut forests, waterfalls, and rugged coastline, Samothraki has a wild beauty and a remoteness that sets it apart from other Greek islands. There are no package holidays here or even a reliable ferry service to the mainland. Island authorities hope to achieve UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status. Yet, the environment is under threat from an insatiable assailant. Goats outnumber humans 15-fold and are munching stretches of Samothraki into a moonscape. After decades of trying to find a solution, experts and locals are working to save the island's ecology and economy. Semi-wild, the goats roam the island, roughly three times the size of Manhattan, and can be spotted on rooftops, in trees or on top of cars as they scour the landscape for anything to eat. Their unchecked overgrazing is causing crisis-level erosion. "There are no big trees to hold the soil. And it's a big problem, both financial and real because (the mud) will come down on our heads," says George Maskalidis, who helps run Sustainable Samothraki Association.

Mountain herding is still a way of life here and despite trying for three decades, the AP reports that authorities have found it hard to build consensus on how to deal with the issue. The goat population, meanwhile, soared fivefold to an estimated 75,000 by the late 1990s, though it has dropped to below 50,000 as there is little left to graze on. But this has left the island in a trap. Most goats are too scrawny to be used for meat, animal feed is too expensive, and much of the soil is too depleted for trees to grow. At the same time, prices for wool, leather, meat, and milk have dropped, leading Samothraki's farmers increasingly desperate. "Most of us are ready to give up. If I had another job, I would drop the goats," says one farmer. "It doesn't make enough to buy you a coffee." Adds another resident, "it is possible to do things in a more sustainable way. That might mean fewer goats but that could actually work out better for the farmers."

(More goats stories.)

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