Santiago Declared Goat Free

Woodpecker Finch. Photo: Sonia Kleindorfer

Woodpecker Finch. Photo: Sonia Kleindorfer

The island of Santiago, the fourth largest island in the Galapagos Archipelago, has been declared officially goat-free. Feral goats were released on the 226-square-mile island in the 1920s. The goat population exploded, and by the 1990s the goats had destroyed much of the shrub and tree vegetation in the sensitive highlands of the island.

The destruction of wooded and forested areas was dramatic, leaving only short grasses over much of the island, which is home to nine species of Darwin's finches, including the unique tool-using Woodpecker Finch, and to threatened species such as the Galapagos Rail and Galapagos Petrel. Damage to their habitat had put significant pressure on the populations of these species.

 

Following an eradication project by the Galapagos National Park Service and Charles Darwin Foundation from 2001 to 2005, and three subsequent years of monitoring to assure that all goats were gone, the island was declared goat free in February, making this the largest eradication of invasive mammals from an island ever achieved. Even before the eradication had been completed, vegetation began growing back, renewing the habitat for the endemic birds and tortoises. With no goats or other large grazing mammals on the island, it is expected that vegetation recovery will be rapid, resulting in substantially increased bird populations.