Bonaire Nature Tour
Part 3

Cactus is the primary vegetation
because goats ate everything else.

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Lots of prickly pear cactus are present in the park, too. It turns out prickly pear has the potential to be a good forage for animals if only the spines could be removed.

The most effective way--with a blowtorch--is prohibitive, so the prickly pear grow unmolested and unchecked.

  When scanning Washington park from the vantage of a hilltop, it really drives home how astoundingly harsh and intimidating this Caribbean landscape is: Almost all the plants are covered with thorns.

Jerry says the plants living on Bonaire today have to be armed and dangerous because of the goats that have overrun the island for centuries, eating it bare.

"We have no idea what the natural vegetation was on Bonaire. The island has been totally dominated by goats. The plants and trees that are able to exist here have some form of defense to keep from being eaten."

Many of the plants we see, such as the acacia and the aloes once grown on Bonaire plantations, were brought in as substitutes for the original flora, whatever it might have been.

Most of the imports were tough African plants and trees which over millions of years had evolved elaborate defenses against herbivores like these marauding goats.

Even the national tree, the divi-divi, is an African import. It's avoided by goats not because of its tough-looking bark but its high concentration of tannic acid, which destroys an important protozoan herbivores need for digestion. (Until 1954, tannin from the tree was exported to Holland for tanning leather.)

Obviously, there should be an open season, even a bounty, on all free-roaming goats, which are referred to as the "cow of the small man". It might be interesting to see what might start popping up in the soil.

On arid Bonaire , which receives only 22 inches of rain a year. the only native mammal found today is the bat. However, there are a lot of lizards and quite a few iguanas, some very big iguanas, too.

The small blue lizards--a subspecies found only on Bonaire --are fast runners, but they also are tame enough to eat out of your hand. They're surprisingly appealing, even to many who thought it was impossible ever to be fond of lizards.

Next Page (Bonaire Nature Tour Part 4)

Bonaire Nature Tour Part 1

Bonaire Nature Tour Part 2

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