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Runaway goats in San Francisco were probably ... freaked out

Four or five goats scrambled across San Francisco last week, captured in videos posted on social media. So how do goats fare in urban settings?
screengrab by NPR via u/kevin1760/Reddit
Four or five goats scrambled across San Francisco last week, captured in videos posted on social media. So how do goats fare in urban settings?

As the editor of a blog called "Goats and Soda" (see our name origin story here), I am always interested when goats make the news. Plus, I'm a Capricorn.

So naturally I was curious about the four or five goats seen dashing through the streets of San Francisco this past week. They made national news via videos viewed by many thousands of folks on social media.

Where did the goats come from? One theory: They escaped from a herd hired to eat weeds in city parks. Another theory: They escaped as they were headed to slaughter. That appears to have more credence due to the type of goat spotted in San Fran — "a breed ... typically used for meat," according to sfgate.com.

Free range urban goats raise concerns and questions for me. Mainly: Is a city an okay place for goats to hang out?

For insights, I turned to goat specialist Alan McElligott, associate professor of animal behavior and welfare, City University of Hong Kong, who answered questions via email.

So first off, goats don't necessarily need to stick to one pasture, right?

Goats prefer to browse rather than graze. [Editor's note: And that's why they do an excellent job clearing unwanted vegetation, including ... poison ivy. They like to roam and eat rather than stay in one place.]

And in theory they can browse for food in a city...

I have seen reports of small herds of goats being used to eat vegetation in city parks in the U.S.

What do you make of the San Francisco goats?

The goats just looked really scared. They must have been been released by humans — somehow (intentionally or unintentionally). Goats are really good at escaping from enclosures (or maybe even a transport vehicle).

Would it be easy to catch them?

Goats are highly food-motivated so maybe they could be enticed into an enclosure in that way. But it's difficult if they are running and scared.

Is it unusual to have goats just, you know, hanging out in a city without supervision?

Urban goats — to my knowledge — are very, very rare. I am not aware of any truly urban-living goats. The ones if Llandudno, Wales mainly live outside the town.

Goats do not normally walk around towns and cities, but it does happen in a few places. It can be quite risky for goats — e.g. traffic accidents. Conflict [with humans] can occur if they go in private gardens to eat flowers or vegetables.

In conclusion, goats are not city critters...

Free-roaming goats do not belong in a town or city — really not a suitable location for them. They will be scared and stressed by the noise and unfamiliar humans.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.