Wild Goats – Ray Colliers Wildlife in the North

goatsWild goats have been a feature of the  Highlands for many centuries, if not longer, and we are still fortunate to be able to see them from the roadside in various places.  The collective name of wild goats is a tribe and these can still be seen  at places such as Dundonnell, near Ullapool, and Loch Fleet, near Golspie.  The fortunes of the wild goats in the Highlands in the last few years have varied considerably  and, as far as one tribe is concerned,  therein lies a mystery that I hope readers may be able to solve or at least give some more clues.  It concerns the wild goats that used to frequent, often in some numbers, the A9 at the Slochd just north of Carrbridge.  A few years ago this tribe mysteriously vanished, almost overnight.  There were various spin-offs over this disappearance but the  main one was that they have been an attraction to tourists, and for that matter more local people, for decades.  They were even part of the advertising literature in the lucrative tourist trade and many vehicles used to stop in the convenient lay-bye on the A9 at the Slochd to look at them.  They used to delight people by often grazing quite near the road making them easy to see in detail.

Then suddenly, they were gone and various rumours have spread as to why this catastrophe happened and even now we seem to be  nowhere nearer to the truth over the matter.  One theory was that the police asked the estate to cut down on the numbers of wild goats at the roadside after a wild goat was  found dead on the road.  It was considered  a danger to traffic on such a busy road and the cull the took place and just went over the top.  There seems to be no foundation over this claim but it is still one of the theories.   Another theory came from a letter  by a correspondent in this newspaper  a week or so ago.  The suggestion was that naturalists had been concerned at the overgrazing by the goats that had resulted in causing  erosion to the vegetation and the way forward was to simply shoot out, not an appropriate cull, but elimination of the wild goats.   Another theory, and one I would support, was that the wild goats were shot out because of the supposed threat of them  carrying ticks that would be transmitted to the red grouse and adversely affect their numbers.  With the red grouse shooting industry so lucrative this seems to be one of the theories for the elimination and a very  valid one.

This supposed danger of tick infestation, and it is  still  only supposed, goes a long way to see why other estates that have taken the same line.  On  one estate the owner admits, in  a long unchallenged  article  in the press a couple of years ago,  that such “vermin” as wild goats and mountain hares have been “eliminated” from his estate.    The word “vermin” seems an odd choice of words in this day and age.  He also stated that the various deer, red, sika and roe, have been reduce to  a mere handful  for the same reason.   This over killing resulted in more red grouse on the estate  the next year but nobody bothers to realise that on a neighbouring estate where such drastic measures were not taken  the red grouse numbers also rose.   It was the weather not  mammals transferring ticks.