Cleveland Amory's Animal Rescue Proves That It Takes More Than the Navy to Get His Goat(s)

updated 08/22/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/22/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Gray morning light has just reached San Clemente Island about 80-miles off San Diego as the helicopter, swooping into narrow canyons that sometimes sink 500 feet, zeroes in on a herd of Andalusian goats. Once in range, New Zealanders Graham Jacobs and Bill Hales aim and fire. In three weeks the men have bagged 308 goats; they are not shooting to kill, they are shooting to save. A nylon net, not bullets, explodes from the four-barrel gun. Observes pilot Mel Cain of the goats' fate: "They'll get tangled. That's all."

The man who engineered the rescue is Cleveland Amory, the crusty, controversial New Englander who heads the Fund for Animals. What nags at Amory now is that he needs more time to save the estimated 500 goats remaining on the craggy isle.

Until the 65-year-old Amory stepped in, the goats that inhabited the island (they were brought there by Spanish explorers in the 16th century) were doomed to death at the hands of the U.S. Navy, which now uses San Clemente for target practice. The Navy had already contracted environmental consultant Dr. Steven Carothers to stalk and kill the animals, which, ironically, the Navy claims are destroying the island's ecology. Amory first sued to halt the procedure in 1979, and the Navy hauled out 6,000 goats at a cost of $240,000 (these goats were supposedly put up for adoption and sold to local farmers, though Amory claims some were sold for slaughter). Last month Amory won another 11th-hour reprieve—thanks to help from longtime friend Benjamin Welles, an assistant to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger—and launched his own rescue. Various other groups then made last-minute legal attempts to save the remaining goats, but their fate is still uncertain.

Help for the $45,000 rescue came from Cain, a former Canadian bush pilot, and Jacobs and Hales, who claim the ability to snare "anything from a butterfly to an elephant" with their technique. On the ground to untangle and corral the goats were the fund's executive director, 41-year-old Jerry Owens, and his future son-in-law, John Price Jr., 23. "It was hard work," said Owens, "but no one got hurt.

The Navy provided barges for the 18-hour sea trip that brought the animals to San Diego, and from there Amory's people trucked them 30 hours nonstop to the fund's Black Beauty Ranch in Brownsboro, Texas. Some of the goats were adopted before the trip by local people attracted by Amory's public pleas. "We want these animals to be treated with dignity at all times," said Amory, whose other feats include the spectacular airlift of 580 burros from the floor of the Grand Canyon (PEOPLE, April 6, 1981) and an expedition to save baby harp seals off the coast of Canada in 1979. "It would be such a rotten world if everything in it had only two legs."

While awaiting word on the fate of the remaining San Clemente goats, Amory petted a kid that he had somehow managed to smuggle into his room at a Holiday Inn in San Diego. "You may think I'm an idiot," he said. "But don't think I'm insincere."

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