Arapawa goats - pest or endangered species?

  • 11/04/2008

The Arapawa goat is one of the rarest animals in the world.

Advocates for the goat say it is on the critically endangered list.

It is estimated there is only about 350 of them left, with a breeding stock so small its survival hangs in the balance.

But that is not the way the Department of Conservation (DoC) sees it.

It says the goat is a pest.

Every year it shoots a number of the goats in its home on an island at the top of the South Island.

Some believe the goat is about to be shot into extinction.

The top of the South Island, where the Marlborough Sounds open onto Cook Strait is the setting for a large and dramatically beautiful island of sheer bluffs and sheltered bays, Arapawa.

It is also the scene of an almighty argument over the future of its native bush and a hardy creature with English origins which is believed to have survived on the island for 200 years.

The Arapawa Island goat is at the centre of a classic environmental conflict - to its advocates it a unique part of our history that should be preserved at all costs to its opponents it is simply a pest.

During the past ten years DoC has shot about 1400 of them.

“The reality is goats are destructive on native vegetation and the ecological values that we are trying to protect,” says Roy Grose from DoC.

Betty Rowe - who has established a sanctuary on the island for the goats - has for 36 years been their defender and advocate.

“These goats have been on this island for over two centuries, they represent something that is very unique and special I think rather than having this high noon mentality which we've had,” says Rowe.

Thousands of  people come to see the goats every year - Betty Rowe says they attract international attention as they are on the critically endangered list, and she is now worried DoC's about to wipe them out.

“There are probably fewer than 350 worldwide and less than half of that are breeding animals,” says Rowe.

“So we've got two goats put ashore by captain cook in 1777 and we know he had goats on board because I found this in a history book as well,” Rowe says.

It is not certain whether the goats are descended from Cook's time - they may be the ancestors of goats released later by sealers - but DNA tests done in Spain show they are from very old stock.

Heritage breed or not, to DoC they are a pest because the goats destroy native bush.

It has fenced off a tiny area of the island - and says it shows how the bush flourishes when goats are kept out.

“You can see on this side of fence got incredible diversity – lancewoods, stinkwoods, five finger, really highly palatable species that are like the ice-cream for goats; and then switch over to the other side of fence where goats can freely eat you've got an area completely eaten out and the only thing that is going to survive are the pepperwoods and the larger trees.  And I would predict in fifty years in collapse in terms of the fact there's no more seedlings coming up,” says Roy Grose of DoC.

“I don't think you can call it conservation if you wipe out one rare thing to save another.  There should be a meeting of minds where you can save the beauty and the dignity of all of these things together,” says Rowe.

The Department shoots about 140 goats a year to keep on top of them, but recently it killed many more.

“About two years ago we did fairly intensive control within the reserve and we shot about 400 that in itself is showing there is a breeding population,” says Grose.

Betty Rowe was stunned the department has shot so many goats in one cull - she never knew until Campbell Live told her.

“Yes well I’m not surprised I’m usually the last to know on these things, well they're literally wiped them out then haven't they,” says Rowe.

But DoC says that it shot so many is proof of a healthy breeding population, but others who have recently walked the length of the island say they now think there are very few goats left.

Some animal rights activists now believe the situation is so desperate they are planning to come to the island to rescue the goats and take them to Betty Rowe's sanctuary, something Doc is happy to see happen.

“The fact that we are allowing people to go onto the reserve and live capture goats as an option if we were blood thirsty killers we would just go through and shoot as many goats as we could,” says Grose.

Doc says it has no plans to exterminate the goats – it is simply doing its job of protecting the bush.

But Betty Rowe thinks otherwise, and argues it is time to declare the goats a protected species - before it is too late.

source: newshub archive