The Arapawa Goat Story
Reproduced by permission
Transplanted American battles for endangered breed
The ARAPAWA goat
In 1969 Walt and Betty Rowe left Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA with their young family for New Zealand. They left behind an affluent and comfortable lifestyle. Betty wanted to get out of the 'rat race' of modern life.
After a couple of years on the New Zealand mainland the family finally settled at Aotea on the island of Arapawa in 1971. Life was a great challenge in self sufficiency but they battled through regardless. During this time Betty's interest in the local wildlife began to grow, especially the wild goats that could be found in social groupings within the area.
She discovered that the Arapawa goats were said to be descendants of goats that had been liberated by Captain Cook in the 18th century, and were probably the very last specimens of the true 'Olde English Milche Goat' which was common in Britain during that time. However, she was also intrigued by the wild sheep found on the island and began to make inquiries as to where and when they had come from.
At first nobody was interested but it wasn't long before the wildlife authorities began to look into the origins of the Arapawa sheep themselves. It also wasn't long before their attention was drawn to the wild goats and pigs that shared the island with the sheep, and Betty's long uphill battle to save these animals began.
Betty had done extensive research regarding the goats and found out that they were both unique and genetically important. But, despite evidence to support her cause from the likes of Professor Hall and Dr Kenneth Morris, the Forest Service decided that both the goats and the pigs must be exterminated although the sheep would be allowed to remain.
The Forest Service used the excuse that a rare snail, found in a reserve on the island, was being threatened by the goats through supposed damage to the bush. This damage was proved to be the work of wild pigs and cattle but the Forest Service wasn't interested . All the goats must be exterminated.
It was now that the Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park Board endorsed what the Forest Service wanted to do and Betty found herself fighting two bureaucracies.
In 1976, the slaughtermen moved in and hundreds of goats were shot where they stood. Adult males, pregnant does and young kids all suffered the same fate.
Betty's war was now started in earnest and was to go on for over 20 years in her efforts to save the animals of Arapawa Island. Letter writing, extensive research, full time lobbying, and plenty of proof that the goats should be preserved were wasted on the authorities who were more intent than ever to rid the island of this 'vermin'. Betty tried to point out that the population had remained static and that they were now an integral part of the island's ecology but the bureaucrats did not want to know.
When the Forest Service shooters arrived, Betty did not confront them alone. Not only did she have the support of her husband Walter, there were about 30 other volunteers who felt the same way as she did - that the killing must be stopped and the goats saved.
Since then, there have been regular culls on the goats of Arapawa as a method of 'control', and a fence was erected around the protected forest reserve in an effort to keep out the 'vermin'!
Betty continued to wage war against the Forest Service in her efforts to gain recognition for the last remaining goats.
In 1987, Betty and Walt put aside 300 acres of their land as a sanctuary for the wildlife of Arapawa. It is now home to almost 100 of the goats, some sheep, and a couple of Arapawa pigs.
In 1994, an anonymous benefactor paid for a helicopter to help with the capture of the last remaining 'free' Arapawa goats. Most were caught but a few were, and still are, living wild.
Captured goats have been sent here and there, though the majority reside in the Rowes' Wildlife Sanctuary. Some were even sent to the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, USA, a replica of a village that was started in 1627. There they firmly believe that the Arapawa goat is indeed the original Old English Milche Goat, especially where modern-day photographs are compared with old engravings and pictures.
The rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand also recognises that the Arapawa goat is a separate breed of goat. It is not a crossbred feral.
Arapawa Island is about 17,000 acres in size, and was originally covered in forest and bush. When the white settlers arrived, the trees and bushes were cleared to make way for sheep and cattle farming. This might have been thought to have limited the goats range considerably, but they were only found to occupy a small part of the island anyway. Damage was not overwhelming, In fact, the goats are very particular about what they do eat, preferring dried leaves from the ground, and only nibble the trees and bushes. They do not destroy them.
The Arapawa goat is not a large animal, with newborn kids weighing around 1 kg. Does not come into heat until they are two years old and then only breed every other year unless they lose their kids. Twins are common and triplets are not unusual. However, these goats are still cycling and breeding as if they were in the Northern Hemisphere. The rut begins in December and the kids arrive from May to July. It is probably this winter kidding that has kept the numbers of Arapawa goats fairly low.
Keeping the goats confined to the sanctuary has not been without its problems. Feeding costs are quite high, the goats must be regularly wormed, and there has been an ongoing struggle to maintain high fences around the sanctuary. This is not only to keep the Arapawa goats in (they can jump five feet with ease) but also to keep 'imported' Angora bucks out. The does and young are confined to a 100 acre, secure, paddock to prevent them from getting 'contaminated' during the breeding season, and the fence is checked every day whatever the weather.
Adult males and bucklings range on the remaining 200 acres, living in social groups.
Severe weather in 1998 cost the lives of eight goats, which was a tragic loss with a breed whose numbers are so low to start with.
In 2002, Betty's husband Walt sadly died at the age of 73. Betty herself is 71 but still continues her fight despite suffering from ME. Thankfully she has her family to help her but she isn't sure of what the future will hold for the goats, the sheep, and the pigs of Arapawa Island.
Any goat that escapes from the safety of the sanctuary is shot by the Forest Service. Even today, Betty still hears the occasional gunshot in the distance. Ironically though, the Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary is advertised by the New Zealand government as one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area!
In an effort to try and bring some of the Arapawa goats back 'home', one lady in the United Kingdom is making arrangement to ship some in late next year. Hopefully the Arapawa will revive the Olde English Milche Goat once again in Britain, the land of it's forefathers.
They managed to capture around 100 goats that were sent to other sanctuaries, reserves, and goat breeders, but casualties were inevitable. Betty wasn't sure which was worse; leave the goats to be shot into extinction or at least try and save some of them, no matter how distressing it would be for the goats. The shooting lasted for two weeks and was an utter nightmare for Betty and her followers. The Forest Service claimed they had shot 2000 goats, Betty says the figure is nearer 600 and that was 600 too many.
If you would like to make a donation to our Arapawa fund, you may do so when you place an order, right on the order form.
Your donation goes directly and entirely toward saving this wonderful breed.
If you are not placing an order, but would like to make a donation, simply send a check made out to Jenness Farm in any amount and indicate that it is for the Arapawa Goats.