Magazine article The Spectator

Kill a Goat If You Want to Save the Planet

Magazine article The Spectator

Kill a Goat If You Want to Save the Planet

Article excerpt

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. …

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