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Western technology and ideas weren’t the only things Commodore Matthew Perry brought when he and his “black ships” ended Japan’s policy of self-imposed seclusion in 1853. He also brought goats — at least that’s one explanation for their conspicuous presence on the Ogasawara island chain, roughly 900 km south of Tokyo.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, many of the more than 1,000 goats have overpopulated four uninhabited Ogasawara islets and are damaging their ecosystems by devouring vegetation and exposing the red soil, which then flows into the ocean, killing the surrounding coral.

The isles are referred to as the “Galapagos Islands of the East” because “there are lots of plants that are unique to these islands,” said Masaru Yumoto of Tokyo’s Park and Open Space Division in the Construction Bureau. To halt the damage, the metropolitan government July 16 enacted the first stage of a program designed to capture and completely eradicate the goats over a period of years, Yumoto said.

Nakodo, with 1.58 sq. km, has the largest number of goats, at 389, and will be the site of the first attempt to capture them. Preparations have been completed, and over the next two days the metropolitan government will attempt to herd 120 goats into cages. The goats will then be sold to a slaughterhouse and used for food, or possibly breeding, in Okinawa and Kyushu. “In Okinawa, they have a tradition of eating goat meat (raw) and think highly of it,” Yumoto said.

However, a Tokyo animal rights group contends there is a better way to solve the goat problem. The Japan Anti-Vivisection Association, a Tokyo-based animal rights group, said it submitted a request July 11 calling on the government to cease its plan and instead neuter the goats and feed them on a regular basis.

Yumoto said that given the amount of time and money it would take, it is not possible to capture all of the goats, neuter and feed them. “It is too bad because the goats’ lives are important, but it is something we have to do to preserve the islands,” Yumoto said.

About 1,000 goats are to be removed from the four islets. When the last human residents vacated the islets after the war, the isles became, in Yumoto’s words, “goat heaven.” Although goats have existed on the islands for many years, it is only in the last 10 years that the damage they cause has become an issue, Yumoto said.

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