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Four Goats Still on Lam in Catalina Roundup

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five down, four to go.

Backed by a helicopter, hunting dogs and extra hired hands, a Southern California cowboy on Friday managed to capture five of the last nine wild goats on Santa Catalina Island.

Ralph Lausten was skunked earlier this month when he tried to catch the goats on behalf of the nonprofit Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, which owns 88% of the island and aims to restore it to a natural state, which means no goats.

On Friday, however, Peter Schuyler, the conservancy’s director of ecological restoration, proclaimed that the Lausten team “caught five.” The goats were moved to an undisclosed location off the island.

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“We haven’t see hide nor hair of the remaining four goats,” he said, “and until someone spots one or more of them, there’s no reason to call Ralph back.”

The remaining goats are believed to be confined to the east end of the island: Two roam the woodlands above a rock quarry, two live in the rugged canyons northwest and southeast of Avalon.

“We know that at least one of the goats left is a female,” he added. “If we’re lucky, the rest are females too.”

Lausten, 52, who over the past decade has managed to rid Santa Cruz Island of its cattle and 6,000 sheep, gets paid by the goat. Because he used a helicopter and enlarged his crew from six to eight members, Schuyler estimated that the removal effort “is costing us about $2,000 to $3,000 per goat.”

“It’s worth it to get the last few goats off the island,” he said.

The prolific animals are descendants of goats that have been munching on native plants and denuding mountainsides for 170 years. Introduced by Spanish missionaries, the goat population grew to tens of thousands by the 1970s.

Eradication efforts, which began four decades ago, sparked anger and resentment between animal activists who wanted the goats left alone and island caretakers who wanted them removed.

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In the early 1990s, thousands of goats were hunted and killed by helicopter-borne sharpshooters.

In response to the negative publicity, the conservancy began hiring herders to snare the remaining animals with lassos, even grab them with bare hands.

Lausten, who left the island on Friday, was unavailable for comment. But Schuyler said, “Ralph’s one of the best.”

“He’s proven himself in the field in the past. Now, he’s humanely caught five with no injuries.”

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