Wranglers Give Up Goat Chase on Catalina--for Now

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The score remains: goats 9, humans 0.

After an exhausting five-day chase up and down steep, cactus-covered hillsides, the last nine wild goats on Santa Catalina Island eluded capture by half a dozen Southern California cowboys hired to remove them.

But lead wrangler Ralph Lausten, who left the island Tuesday to attend to some personal business on the mainland, vowed to return within a few weeks to complete the job.

"We had them cornered a few times, but we wound up with zero," said Lausten, 52, who was hired by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy.

The conservancy operates under a mandate to restore the island to its natural state; that means no goats.

"Just before we pulled out on Tuesday afternoon," Lausten said, "one of them goats ran past me just a few feet away. But I couldn't do a thing about it because I was trying to keep my balance on a rock."

"This is one of the first times I ever got skunked this bad," added Lausten, who has made a career out of snaring feral goats, sheep and cattle. "But, hey, that's the kind of business I'm in. I never call it quits."

The prolific and adaptive goats have thrived on the island since members of a domestic breed were turned loose by Spanish missionaries in the 1820s. By the 1970s, they numbered in the tens of thousands, denuding hillsides and valleys of everything that grew.

The conservancy believes that the animals must be moved if damaged ecosystems are to recuperate. But instead of resuming controversial shootings of the past, the group has decided to haul them to an undisclosed location on the mainland.

Caretakers of the island have approved a series of programs led by herders such as Lausten to snare the remaining animals with lassos, even grab them with bare hands.

"I have a lot of respect for the goats," Lausten said. "If we tried to be quiet and sneak up to them, they sat and watched our every move, then headed for where there was nobody.

"Next time, I might want to use a helicopter in addition to dogs," he said. "Other than that, I plan to stay on 'em."

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