Volunteers are evacuating 100 stray goats from an idyllic Italian island

In what's been called the "biggest rescue operation ever attempted in Italy", animal lovers have begun removing around 100 stray goats from the island of Palmaria.

Volunteers are evacuating 100 stray goats from an idyllic Italian island
One of the goats of Palmaria. Photo: Gabriele Ferreri/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

The goats are considered an invasive species on the island – part of a protected archipelago off the north-western Italian coast that's designated a Unesco World Heritage Site – and will be taken to the mainland to be rehoused.

READ ALSO: A herd of 'rebel cows' has been living wild in the Italian mountains for years

Goats have lived wild on Palmaria since the 1960s. No one is quite sure how they got there, but over the decades the herd has grown to far outnumber the island's human population, which currently stands at around 30.

A common sight on the island's steep cliffs, the dinky goats may be popular with tourists, but their tendency to chomp native flora and trample residents' crops made them a nuisance to the locals.

Photo: Roberto Celi/Facebook

Regional authorities have been seeking a way to get rid of the animals for years – culminating in a national furore in 2016 when reports began circulating that the mayor was considering having the goats culled.

The council eventually came to an arrangement last year with Italy's national association for the protection of animals, Enpa, which undertook to capture and remove Palmaria's goats. 

The ambitious operation began last weekend and is expected to take up to a year to complete.

The first stage involves carrying out a goat census, since no one is quite sure how many of them live on the island. Rescuers plan to lay bait to lure a few of the animals into enclosures, fit them with radio tracking collars and release them, so that they can lead them to the rest of the group.

Once captured, the goats will be checked by vets, shipped a farm on the mainland and kept in quarantine before, finally, to new homes.

Enpa is inviting applications from anyone who wants to adopt a goat (or 40), but there's one condition: they absolutely mustn't be destined for the dinner table.

Photo: Orietta Godani/Facebook

“Only 100 percent cruelty-free adoptions are being considered,” Enpa's vice president, Massimo Pigoni, told La Stampa. “So once they leave the island, we have to be sure that these animals won't end up at the end of a shotgun or in a cooking pot, nor put into production. Careful, though, they're not indoor animals and they can't be kept on a leash like a dog.”

Even if you can't take a goat home with you, you can still help by donating to the crowdfunding page that Enpa has created to help cover its expenses.

“This large-scale rescue operation comes with high costs, especially since we're talking about an island,” the organization says.

“There are the costs of capturing the goats, transporting them, keeping them, the considerable costs of vet care and checks before and after adoption; costs to be borne until the last goat has reached its destination. In safety. Loved, cared for, protected.”


Italians cheer on wild bear’s ‘Great Escape’ from electrified pen

Italian animal lovers cheered on a wild bear on Tuesday after a daring escape from an electrified holding pen sparked a bear-hunt and a furore over its fate.

Italians cheer on wild bear's 'Great Escape' from electrified pen
Illustration photo: AFP

The three-year old, known only as M49, was captured Sunday in the Val Rendena valley in the Trentino region in northern Italy after it was spotted several times approaching inhabited areas.

But in a getaway compared by Italian media to Steve McQueen's exploits in the 1963 WWII film “The Great Escape”, M49 went on the lam Saturday after scaling a four-metre (13-foot) high and 7,000 volt electric fence.

“Run bear, run!” said one user on Twitter as the #fugaperlaliberta (#escapeforfreedom) hashtag went viral.

Three teams from the state forestry corps with sniffer dogs were set on its trail.

The search was complicated by the fact that the bear's tracking collar was apparently removed after its capture.

“If M49 approaches inhabited areas, the forestry service is authorised to kill it,” said Maurizio Fugatti, governor of the Trentino region.

“The fact that the bear managed to climb over an electric fence with seven cables carrying 7,000 volts… shows how dangerous it is,” he said.

But Environment Minister Sergio Costa was quick to countermand that order. “M49's escape from the enclosure cannot justify an action that would cause its death,” he said.

'Escape genius… superhero'

Farmers' association Coldiretti claimed the bear had approached inhabited areas 16 times, and killed 13 farm animals.

WWF Italy ridiculed the region's efforts to deal with the bear.

“A solid electrified fence with adequate power is an insurmountable barrier even for the most astute bears,” it said.

“Obviously the structure was not working properly, since bears do not fly.”

It was particularly serious that the collar had been removed, “making it even more difficult to track”, it added.

The global conservation group insisted “its danger to people is still to be demonstrated.

“At most, it can be considered problematic for causing economic damage to farming activities, following the failure to adopt appropriate prevention tools,” it said.

M49 is part of the Life Ursus project, which since the early 1990s has worked to reintroduce brown bears into the Trentino region after they were driven to extinction in northern Italy.

Professor Luigi Boitani from Rome's La Sapienza University told Italian media they now number between 50 and 60.

The mistake had been failing to use electric fences to dissuade M49 from approaching inhabited areas.

At the same time, he added, an electrified cage was never going to contain “a large, adult and spirited male bear”.

The League for the Abolition of Hunting (LAC) said it suspected the bear had been allowed to escape, so that it could be declared a danger to humans and killed.

“M49 is, of course, an escape genius… endowed with superpowers like a Marvel Comics hero,” it said.

“He just happened to climb over the fence, unharmed by electric shocks, by chance without his radio collar — and, what do you know, he can be declared public enemy number one and the escape sparks a maximum security alert”.

Michela Vittoria Brambilla, president of the Italian Defence League for Animals, told M49 to “run and save yourself!”

“We are on the side of the bear, and of freedom,” she said.