Tilos: what is getting the goat of the island’s landscape?

My attention was suddenly diverted from picking my way through the excessively prickly vegetation on a narrow mountain-side agricultural terrace to get into position for a photo of yet another abandoned olive press. A noise like a turkey having its neck pulled while learning how to make its annoyingly stupid “gobble-gobble” noise came from a lower terrace.  That was quickly followed by a sound like pushing your tongue rapidly and forcibly through closed lips.

A couple of young adult male goats were standing erect, alert, poised at the edge of  the terrace alongside a dead olive tree.   Picking my way closer it soon became clear that they stood aloof as Big Billy was softening up a young honey-blonde who had obviously just come to the point of finding out what being a young female goat is all about.  The more slightly built young males clearly didn’t have either the bulk or the horns to take on Big Billy but, driven by uncontrollable biological urges, hung around, presumably hoping he wouldn’t be up to the task and go home.

The sound like pushing your tongue rapidly through closed lips was precisely that.  The huge male flicked his tongue all over the young female who clearly relished the attention and enjoyed the experience.

I left, as discretely as being surrounded by flesh ripping vegetation would allow, before matters became any more personal.

A few days later, having spotted that it bore ripe fruit, I stopped underneath a fig tree in yet another of the abandoned settlements on Tilos.  I love ripe figs straight from the tree, it’s a real bonus when trekking in the mountains.  I sat down to munch on my now augmented banana and nutbar when I heard those strange sounds again.   The only difference was that this time the young female was not so compliant and instead was making straight for where I was sitting, ignoring Amorous Billy’s advances.

It was clear.  The young female wanted some of the food and Amorous Billy wanted some of the young female. Not wanting to get into the middle of a lovers’ tiff I picked some of the dried up, over-ripe figs from the tree and threw them some distance away, followed by the skin from my rapidly dispatched banana.

Amorous Billy walked off huffily, not impressed by the fact that the female was more interested in the banana skin than in him.  Who can blame him?!

Fact of the matter is, you can’t go anywhere on Tilos without encountering goats.  Admittedly not always amorously inclined but they are in numbers larger than is good for the fragile environment of the island.  Nature conservation interests as well as opinions expressed by locals and knowledgeable visitors consider that there are just too many.

They pop up everywhere: looking down from lofty crags; leaping out of bits of shade beneath rocks or trees; wandering along otherwise secluded beaches; licking seepages of water from rocks faces; jumping out of a luxury pad in the many derelict buildings.  It’s impossible to find a bit of natural shade on the island which isn’t carpeted in droppings and dark-brown goat urine stains.  In enclosed spaces the smell is overpowering.

Desperate for food in summer months, numbers are so great that they resort to digging up arum and squill bulbs, which they obviously find inedible, in order to get at the succulent roots beneath.  Areas of mountainside are churned up and sections of footpaths destroyed.

It has to be said that they look the part, leaping around the crags balletically, showing just how cumbersome we lumbering, arthritic humans are at the task.  They come in all shapes, sizes and colourings: black, white, streaked, brown, honey blonde and dramatically piebald.  They are certainly photogenic.

Some now have ear-tags in compliance with EU regulations but many …. most …. are simply wild in the senses of rampant, out of  control and ‘not subject to agricultural practices’.

Because they are wild there is, as far as I can find, no reliable estimate of the total numbers  but one thing is beyond doubt, the number of goats far exceeds the 200 or so people who live here all year.  This set me thinking – something needs to.

In Wales the number of sheep at over 8 million also outnumber the 3 million residents.  There is no real significance in that apart from providing a butt for jokes (pun acknowledged but not intended).  What is of significance is that the mountain landscape of Wales is a direct result of overgrazing by sheep.  The bare, grassy mountains were not always so.  Until the industrial revolution the mountains of South Wales were largely covered in beech/oak/cherry woodland.  When that was felled to make charcoal to fuel the blast furnaces it never recovered and the introduction of large flocks of sheep on vast areas of upland common allowed virtually nothing else to grow except grass.  The numbers of sheep allowed are specified for each common but in reality significantly exceed that.

Arguably there us a tie up between the excessive numbers of goats on Tilos and the landscape too.  I have commented before that on nearby Symi, a walk in the mountains leaves an overwhelming impression of herbs, especially oregano, sage and thyme which fill the air with their characteristic smells.  On Tilos the overwhelming impression is of aggressive thorny bushes which impale passing flesh.  My guess is that these have flourished because the goats have eaten everything else so they have little competition.

Hey, you!  I'm Big Billy, aren't I impressive

Hey, you! I’m Big Billy, aren’t I impressive

First of all a good tongue-flicking to get her in the mood

First of all a good tongue-flicking to get her in the mood

Young male hovering around, waiting his day.

Young male hovering around, waiting his day.

Mother takes one of the kids for an amble up the crag

Mother takes one of the kids for an amble up the crag

young kid licks the rock to get water which oozes out

young kid licks the rock to get water which oozes out

Large piebald male in pursuit of some action

Large piebald male in pursuit of some action

Next post on the blog will be more walking, less rambling.  Maybe.

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