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Scabies infection threatens the last population of Iberian wild goats in Catalonia

Hunters and park rangers are currently working together to try to contain the outbreak of Scabies in the wild population of Iberian ibex in the mountainous area of Terra Alta, in the south of Catalonia. This is the last surviving population of this local species throughout Catalonia, after it became extinct from the Pyrenees. Negotiations between the two parties began late last month after the Catalan Government's Department of Agriculture granted permission to hunt and kill the infected specimen before the disease spreads. A previous case in 1987, which eliminated 97% of the goat population, has meant that the Department of Agriculture is not taking this news lightly and want a swift yet controlled extermination of the diseased animals in order to prevent the extinction of the species in Catalonia.


13 February 2015 11:17 PM


ACN / Nisse Laiho-Murdoch

Terra Alta (ACN) .- Hunters and park rangers are acting together in order to contain an outbreak of Scabies that has been discovered in a wild population of Iberian ibex in the mountainous area of Terra Alta, including El Ports National Park, in southern Catalonia. This is the last surviving population of this local species throughout Catalonia, after it became extinct from the Pyrenees. Talks between the two parties started late last month following a government announcement by the Catalan Ministry of Agriculture in which they were granted permission to hunt and kill the infected goats to stop the disease spreading. Catalan Government officials believe that the spread of scabies in the population of these goats can be stopped before it becomes an epidemic. Due to a previous case in 1987, which eliminated 97% of the goat population, the Government is not taking this news lightly and demands a swift and controlled extermination of the diseased animals. 

The news comes not only as a surprise to many but also as a horror. Though the regional director of agriculture, Pere Vidal, believes that the spread of the disease can be stopped in time many believe that this incident many lead to something much more catastrophic. The areas surrounding the mountainous areas of Terra Alta and the El Ports National Park are not only home to a population of Iberian wild goats but also boast a vast array of wild game and farmed life stock. As scabies is very easily spread between mammals it is feared that the disease may spread to the surrounding areas and species. This could result in somewhat of a whirlwind effect that could infect any species that comes into contact with the disease. 

Late last month a meeting was held between a large selection of official local representatives, park rangers, and hunters. During the meeting negotiations were held to try and solve the situation as quickly and effectively as possible as well as coming up with a common solution to how to detect the disease in mammals at an early stage. It is believed that there are over 5,000 wild Iberian goats in the area of Terra Alta but as no official census has been made for four years it is impossible to know the exact figure. 

Previous confirmation of the infected animals stood at only a handle full of cases. This has now grown to almost one hundred confirmed cases. So far 96 animals have been confirmed as affected by the disease and 38 have been killed in an attempt to stop its spread. Though the disease is yet to be confirmed in the surrounding areas, officials fear that the goats, which are accustomed to roaming freely around the land, may spread the disease to the population of 51,000 wild game in the reserve at El Ports National Park. 

The initial news story was broken in October last year by ACN but officials were hesitant to confirm the epidemic until further studies were made. Vidal agreed, however, that it is vital to examine the goats for contamination before hunting them to stop the spread. He further acknowledged that so not to startle the goats binoculars must be used to study them. To examine whether a subject has been contaminated the disease or not is very difficult and can take a lot of time. Time that the Department of Agriculture does not have if they want to stop the spread as soon as possible. Furthermore, as Scabies can be attained by any mammal, it is not possible to simply slaughter the contaminated subject and leave them in the wilderness. Scabies can live outside of its host subject for up to three days and, thus, could easily latch onto other mammals including wild boars, foxes, and even human beings. Vidal explained that the best way to deal with the contaminated species, therefore, is to kill them humanely and remove their skin in order to destroy the Scabies outbreak. 

Though many are calling for a less violent way of treating this outbreak, the authorities believe that it is vital to destroy the disease swiftly before more animals are contaminated. Furthermore, the various departments involved believe it is vital to act within accordance to the law and are working closely with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) to draw up a plan to contain the disease in the entire population if it was to spread beyond controllable means. UAB have been working on plans regarding scabies in the goat population with the Catalan Government since 2011 as a precautionary measure for precisely a case like this. As of now the Government believe that the spread can be stopped with the use of hunters and rangers but the case is being watched very closely by all parties involved. As the disease has a very long lifespan it can take a long time for symptoms to show up on animals and this makes examining the spread very difficult. 

Nonetheless, plans have been drawn out by various governmental facilities to cut the spread of the disease using more ethical measures. Mas de Barberans is a 17-acre safe haven for animals that was built five years ago and is being suggested as a place to re-home those goats who have not been infected yet. Previously there was a plan to move a portion of the contaminated Iberian goats to the safe haven in order to treat them easier. This has since been been discarded as government officials and park rangers believe it is impossible to move already contaminated subjects to an area that is populated with healthy animals. 

Despite plans to keep the number of wild goats killed either by hunters or the disease itself at a very low figure, the amount of confirmed cases has grown exponentially and all measures must be taken to control it in time. The President of the Professional Association of Rural Agents of Catalonia, Francesc Coll explained that this outbreak is an emergency and should be treated like one. He told ACN that the hunters recruited to exterminate the contaminated goats are crucial and that they are working side by side with the park rangers to ensure that the process is carried out legally and correctly. He later urged that it is vital to have everyone's support in stopping the outbreak and if anyone sees any animal affected they should immediately inform the Association of Rural Agents of Catalonia. 

Regarding the origin of the disease, as of now it is still unknown. It has, however, been limited to two possibilities. The first is that it may be due to an infected goat of a different population that has travelled to the area from Valencia. The second theory maintains that a domestic herd that has had the disease but has been treated may have infected one of the wild goats who are known to wander in to domesticated areas. 

The disease is a parasitic infection that affects mammals and is caused by the mite 'Sarcoptes Scabiei'. It mainly affects the skin of mammals, causing dehydration and the formation of irritative scabs and crusts. If not intensively treated, the disease can cause the deterioration of an animals immune system and ultimately lead to its death. It is extremely contagious and minimum contact with an infected subject is all that is needed to spread the bug.


  • Wild Iberian goats at Els Ports natural park, in southern Catalonia (by ACN)

  • Wild Iberian goats at Els Ports natural park, in southern Catalonia (by ACN)