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Arapawa Goat

The Arapawa goat is a feral breed of domestic goat whose ancestors arrived with European colonists in New Zealand, possibly as early as the 1600’s. The breed was originally only found on the rugged island of Arapawa, which is situated at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. The origin of the goat population on this island has often been associated with the expeditions of Captain James Cook. Historical records indicate that goats were released by Cook on the island in 1777. According to local lore the present goats are directly descended from those original goats that arrived in the 18th century during British colonization. The goats are thought to be “Old English,” a common goat breed in Britain at the time of colonization. This breed is a likely candidate to have been brought by British colonists as it is an all-purpose family goat suitable to meet the challenges of founding new colonies.

In England, over time, the Old English goat slowly fell out of favor on small farms. Old English goats eventually became extinct as more productive breeds became popular and the practice of keeping yard goats diminished towards the end of the 19th century. If New Zealand goat lore is true, then the Arapawa represents the last remaining examples of the Old English goat, and it has been conserved due to the relative isolation of the island. While the origins of the Arapawa goat will continue to challenge historians and biologists, phenotypical evidence and DNA evidence seem to support the hypothesis of the relationship to the Old English goat.

The Arapawa goat population thrived on the island without major threat for over 200 years, until the 1970s. At that time, the New Zealand Forest Service came to the conclusion that the goats were too damaging to the native forest and therefore had to be eradicated. In reaction to the news, Arapawa Island residents Betty and Walt Rowe stepped in with friends and volunteers and created a 300 acre sanctuary in 1987 to help prevent the destruction of the breed by the planned government cull. They began conservation work on the sanctuary with 40 captive goats while continuing to advocate for the halt of government culls of the wild population. Walt Rowe sadly passed away in 2002 leaving Betty to carry on the work with the aid of family and friends until she passed away in 2008. It is largely through their efforts that the breed gained international attention and survives today. As of 2008 there are approximately 300 goats in captivity with another 150-200 goats remaining in the wild. Numbers of Arapawa goat breeders are continuing to increase in New Zealand, the United States, and in the United Kingdom.

Documentation of the origins of the feral herd of goats on Arapawa Island is important in understanding the genetic resource represented in the goats. To increase its understanding of the Arapawa goat, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, through ALBC Technical Advisor Dr. Phil Sponenberg, teamed up with the University of Cordoba and several Arapawa goat breeders to do a DNA analysis of the breed in 2007. The study found that the Arapawa goats are clearly distinct from other breeds. They are not Spanish as some scientists speculated, and the Old English connection may yet prove true. What is certain is that the hardiness and self-sustaining abilities of the goats make them a unique genetic resource.

Arapawas are considered medium-sized goats, with does weighing from 60-80 pound and bucks weighing up to 125 pounds. They have long hair and are predominantly black, brown, and white in varying combinations with many having badger stripes on their faces. Does typically give birth to twins with little to no birthing difficulties and possess excellent mothering skills from the start. The Arapawa is a non-aggressive breed, which, if handled early in life, make excellent family goats.

Status: See CPL

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