Carrying signs and accompanied by three carabao, or water buffalo, about 45 protesters gathered peacefully at the main entrance to the U.S. Naval Forces Marianas headquarters on Guam Wednesday to protest the Navy’s killing of wild carabao roaming the Santa Rita hills ordnance magazine.

Since May, Navy sharpshooters have reduced by an estimated 10 percent the 300-carabao herd that grazes federal property, said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Thurraya Kent.

“There’s an overpopulation of carabao in the magazine, and we’re seeing a seven to 10 percent population-growth rate annually,” she said.

Kent said the carabao have become a menace to Navy employees working in the magazine. They’ve damaged fence lines and berms surrounding ammunition bunkers and contaminate Fena Reservoir water used to supply the Navy and a local Guam community.

“There’s erosion being caused by grazing that’s impacting the quality of that water, and some endangered plant species in the area are being threatened,” she said.

The Navy has worked closely with Guam’s Department of Agriculture, and Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources, to relocate some of the carabao with local villages.

“We’ve been somewhat disappointed that they’ve chosen to shoot so many,” Paul Bassler, Guam’s Agriculture Department director, said Wednesday. “We have plenty of names of people who want them.”

He said he believes 63 of the 300 roaming federal property — 21 percent — have been killed.

Since July 2002, Bassler said, the Navy let state employees remove carabao from Navy property between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. each Tuesday. He said 21 have been removed since that time.

“They tell us it’s a security issue when the magazine is in operation,” he said.

Kent said since 1996, the Navy has concentrated on nonlethal approaches to reduce the herd through relocation efforts and contraceptive vaccines.

“We estimate 80 percent of the females were ‘darted’ with the immuno-contraceptive vaccine between 1999 and 2002,” Kent said. “It probably will be long-term, about 10 years, before we expect to see results.”

Bassler said while the vaccine “may work in time,” the type of vaccine the Navy used requires two shots within a year to be effective “and it’s hard to determine which ones got the shots and which didn’t.”

Kent said the Navy is sensitive to the residents’ issues. Officials have met in the past with the Mayors’ Council of Guam, which passed a resolution in June expressing “resentment” at the Navy’s method of reducing the animal population.

“We understand the concern people have, and the closeness many on Guam feel about the carabao,” she said. “However, we have a mission to equip the fleet — and find an ecological balance, too.”

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