Boskovice, Czech Republic - A wild west theme park in the Czech Republic has teamed up with a local humanitarian organization to buy goats for rural African families through its novel "rent-a-goat" attraction.
Holiday makers visiting the park in Boskovice, southeast of the capital Prague, can have fun and do their bit to help others by renting goats to feed or romp around with for 10 Czech koruna (0.40 euros, 0.60 dollars) as part of a project called "Goats for Africa".
"Last year we sent 214,000 koruna to buy 214 goats -- that's a decent number," said Lubos 'Jerry' Prochazka, the "sheriff" and founder of the popular theme park that draws 60,000 to 100,000 visitors a year.
A local aid group called People in Need uses the funds to buy goats -- hardy creatures that produce highly nutritious milk -- for rural families in Africa and at times Asia.
The group, active in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Namibia as well as in several Asian and European states, also teaches families how to care for their new livestock so herds will multiply quickly.
"Our goal is to give the goats to people who have been taught so that the animals survive, reproduce and bring more benefit," said Tomas Vyhnalek, chief fundraiser at People in Need which was created in 1992.
"In Sri Lanka, where people lost their herds in a war, nobody needed training because they are farmers who used to breed goats, so we simply gave them vaccinated animals," said Vyhnalek.
But in Angola, which is still recovering from a 27-year-long civil war that ended in 2002, "the herds were killed off and the farmers lost their know-how over the decades," he added.
People in Need now runs a training center and model farms in the oil-rich country, whose capital Luanda emerged as the world's most expensive city for expatriates in the recently published Mercer group study.
But the general poverty ratio in the former Portuguese colony reached 37 percent in 2010, and an even worse 58 percent among rural residents, according to United Nations data.
People in Need implemented projects worth almost 59 million koruna (2.41 million euros) in Angola in 2009, the last year for which data are available.
"The farmers know that when they get a certificate at the end of the training course lasting several months, they will also get a bonus -- either chickens or goats," Vyhnalek said.
The families get two to six goats, depending on breeding conditions.
Prochazka got the idea of joining forces with People in Need while Christmas shopping.
"I bought a magazine with the picture of a goat with glass Christmas balls on its head. It was an ad posted by People in Need, so I called them, told them we had a goat rental, and asked if we could cooperate in some way," he added.
Until last year, the theme park rented the goats to visitors to take for walks on a lead "but it didn't work because people can't handle the goats, grown-ups and kids alike."
"Once the whole herd escaped to the local cemetery on All Souls' Day," said Prochazka. "That required a big police action -- about 20 cops were there, chasing the goats who devoured the fresh wreaths, flowers and candles. The fine was quite hefty too."
Visitors can now rent the goats inside an enclosure, or just buy them fodder. On sunny days, the park lets the older goats out to mingle with tourists and mooch a nibble at the park's wild west saloon.
Despite their unruliness, Prochazka praises the smart, resilient animals as ideal for Africa's harsh environment.
"Once we had diesel in buckets here, and a goat came and drank half of the bucket, so we said: that's it, she's finished. She turned all yellow, and lost all of her pelt," said Prochazka.
"We even banned our people from approaching her with a cigarette -- but she got well in a month and had kids the next year. So now we know these animals are immortal," he laughed.
Image: Jeff Attaway / via Flickr