The second time The Fund for Animals embarked on a large-scale rescue, it did not involve burros, but goats. This time The Fund was up against not the National Park Service, but the U.S. Navy, though the method of killing was the same: shooting the animals from a hovering aircraft. This time instead of sharpshooters, regular “sport” hunters were to be called to the island. Cleveland Amory again stood up for the animals against the cruel and misguided “management” plan.
The U.S. Navy’s Assault
Since the sixteenth century these rare Spanish Andalusian goats lived on San Clemente Island, one of the eight, remote Channel Islands off the coast of California. They had coexisted peacefully with the Navy, which had owned the island since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration in 1934. The Navy used the island for simulated war exercises, both as a target for sailors on ships at sea and also for those operating new weapons fired from the land and air. Throughout these shellings the goats found cover in the rugged terrain and managed to survive the explosive atmosphere. The Navy then began to express concerns that these Anduluvian goats were interrupting their exercises. This particular species of goat is small with fine bones, and the ones on the island were tan and red-coated.
In 1972, the Navy began a culling program, decreasing the herd from 12,000 to 4,000. In the 1980’s the Navy indicated they were working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the island’s endangered flora and fauna—from the animals who eat them. When notice of another killing spree was mentioned in a local newspaper in 1983, The Fund initiated a lawsuit. Cleveland Amory also went to see then-Secretary of Defense and fellow Harvard alum, Casper Weinberger, and asked him to intercede.
In a meeting with Navy officials, an admiral claimed that the killing must go forward because the goats were threatening species that were protected under the Endangered Species Act. This comment angered Amory, who with The Fund, had supported the landmark act and felt it was improperly used to give cover for the killing. He replied that of the three endangered fauna species on the island, one was a lizard and two were birds. While it was possible an errant goat could harm an errant lizard, perhaps by stepping on the animal, it was certainly not likely—and the idea of a goat harming a bird was beyond reason.
Amory also went to the media. But before the story about Amory’s attempts to protect the goats from the Navy could air, a news clip indicated that Secretary Weinberger had overruled the Navy admirals and allowed The Fund to rescue the goats.
Now that they could remove the goats, The Fund had to figure out how to do so, and settled upon a method designed by some New Zealanders to fire a shotgun, loaded with a net instead of bullets. Though never used before, it proved a successful—and safe—method to gather the goats, who were then lifted off the island by helicopter. The first goat rescue took four minutes and by day’s end, 60 goats had been removed from San Clemente Island. After “Operation Goat Rescue” concluded, three years later, more than 4,000 goats had been successfully rescued and brought to safety.