As local families were liming under the shade of the coconut trees on a large cay off St. Thomas this week, their traditional annual respite was repeatedly interrupted by gunfire as an as yet unidentified group of about fifteen men in camouflage shot goats of all sizes 1000 or so feet up the hill from the campers.
One woman who asked not to be named said her 15-year-old daughter had been rambling over the island with a friend of the same age on Sunday when the gunfire erupted.
Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor confirmed Wednesday night the camouflaged group had been given permission to shoot the “invasive” goats on the uninhabited island of Hans Lollik, and to bring in the big rifles they used to shoot them.
According to another Northside resident who said his name was Rick, the mass shootings had been going on since November, leaving nearly 1000 of the animals dead or dying on Hans Lollik, one of the largest offshore cays that has been used for decades for camping during the annual week-long Emancipation – Independence Day celebration that runs from June 29 through July 3.
“It’s our culture,” said another woman, fearing exposing the killing would end their Emancipation celebration camping. However, the Virgin Islands Open Shoreline Act does not allow anyone – including land owners – to block access, at least from the sea, to the territory’s beaches.
Another man from the Northside fishing community said killing goats and butchering them for food is a normal island custom, “But you don’t shoot them in the stomach and leave them alive to bleed out,” as many who were on Hans Lollik observed over the last four days. Both men scoffed at the idea of the goats being invasive. “They’ve been here for hundreds of years,” said one man who had just landed his fishing skiff at Hull Bay to drop off a couple of the campers. He was especially upset that at least one of the goats who had been shot in the belly was a pregnant female. “Who does that?”
All of the five people initially interviewed could not understand why the goats were left to die and rot in the sun when they could have been used for food. They also did not understand why the shooters didn’t fire into the goats heads instead of the bellies, which did not immediately kill them.
In fact, not shooting them directly in the head to kill them instantly and prevent suffering is inhumane and against federal law, and could also be construed as illegal under the V.I. statute related to animal cruelty
A local veterinarian said Thursday that students are taught in medical school exactly how to use a gun to humanely kill an animal.
A quote from the Compassion in Food Business website is clear about shooting:
“A slaughter method is only humane if the animal dies without pain or distress … This is possible by shooting an animal with a free bullet to the head.” The campers had taken several pictures of different animals with bullet holes in their bellies. One was clearly the pregnant female. Some were shot in the head as well.
Meanwhile, Velinor expressed surprise that there were people on the island while the recent killing was going on. The attorney for the island’s owners had assured the police commissioner it was “unoccupied,” and that the “team” the owners were sending – guns in tow – had worked very successfully for the owners for years and in many locations eradicating unwanted wildlife on their various properties.
There is no question that the invading shooters knew the campers were there. “They walked right through us on the beach,” one woman said. “They assured us they would not be killing the goats anywhere near us.”
And indeed, according to eyewitnesses, the shooting went on up the hill behind where the tents were pitched and the campers were “doing our thing,” as the woman who was concerned about losing their peaceful camping spot said.
One of the campers said that on one of the days, two V.I. Police Department officers had accompanied the camouflaged men. Velinor said he knew nothing about that. He promised to look into it, but had not gotten back to the Source after 24 hours. He also said he would check his email and provide the name of the property owners who received the permits for the weapons coming into the territory as well as permission to shoot the animals.
According to one knowledgeable source, the large island on the northeast side of St. Thomas has changed hands several times in the last six years. The last known owner was U.S. Virgin Islands Properties, LLC with a Palo Alto, California address. Forming an LLC is the standard way of protecting the identities of property owners. But rumors abound that the island was last purchased by the tech giant Google, which does have a Palo Alto address and also a huge corporate shield from personal responsibility.
Many developers over the years have attempted to gain control of the island for anything from high end hotels to mansions. They have until now been beaten back by environmentalists and others who are loath to see the cays developed and fear what that could bring.
Two of the witnesses of the Hans Lollik goat killings confirmed the “permitted” men in green explained to the campers that the goats were destroying the trees and foliage and that they had been tasked with stopping them so that the island’s greenery could grow back.