About Auckland Island GoatsAbout Auckland Island Goats

Goats are reported to have been liberated in at least ten places on the Auckland Island group, New Zealand, in the second half of the nineteenth century as food for castaways, with at least one liberation in 1865 on the main Auckland Island. In 1934 the islands were defined as Nature Reserves and today they are administered by the Department of Conservation. By the 1970s, only one population of about a hundred goats remained, these living on the north-west side of Port Ross, one of the driest and warmest parts of the main island.

Following a 1972-1973 field study by ecologists Rudge and Campbell, they wrote (in 1977), “We conclude that numbers of goats will remain at much the present level or, like the rabbits on Rose Island another of the Auckland Island group decline with the advance of woody vegetation; and that the range will not expand beyond Grey Duck Creek. Therefore we see no merit in exterminating the population as there are many signs that the vegetation is already slowly doing it. Meanwhile they may be safely left alone, having the distinction of being the world’s most southerly population of feral goats.”

This was strongly contested by some leading botanists, who wrote (in 1978) that “if they are indeed dying out slowly, the opportunity should be taken of shooting them now, rather than risking an increase or spread through unforeseen circumstances. The conservation value of the native biota far transcends the limited scientific interest that the goats present.”And a few years later, Campbell and Rudge (1984) appear to have changed their views, recommending the extermination of goats (and pigs) on the island, even though the goats had not increased in numbers – although they may have increased their range.

Subsequent observations by Rudge in 1986, made during a Department of Lands and Survey expedition to Auckland Island to capture some goats and take them to the South Island of New Zealand, indicated that the Auckland Island goats were “among the largest recorded in New Zealand.”Eleven goats were collected at this time (one account says thirteen were captured with two dying shortly after their arrival on the mainland). A preliminary report on these by the Animal Science Group at Lincoln College noted that they ranged in colour from black to white-grey (although some pure white had been seen on the island). Blood typing showed a marked difference in terms of serum albumen and transferrins from the feral and Anglo-Nubian goats held at Lincoln. Their plasma protein characteristics were similar to Spanish Serrara Andaluza and Hungarian Saanen goats.

The Lincoln Animal Science Group report concluded: “It is clear that in spite of an inhospitable climate individual goats appear to be well adapted for survival on the Auckland Islands although the population as a whole may be limited by neo-natal mortality. Those goats which survive to maturity are large framed animals which appear to be genetically different from New Zealand feral goats. It is possible that under intensive farming conditions these goats may produce offspring of exceptional size, and good nutrition and selection could be expected to increase Cashmere [fine undercoat] production. We feel that these goats warrant further study, both as a source of new genetic material and as a physiologically adapted population that have evolved over a 100 years in a harsh climate. It would be unwise to eliminate this population completely since it is difficult to have the foresight to know what characteristics may be required of farm animals in the future ...”

In 1987 a major recovery project was undertaken by the Department of Lands & Survey, the New Zealand Navy, Jacques Cousteau and the crew of his research vessel, Calypso, and the Ministry and Agriculture and Forestry’s Fisheries Research vessel James Cook. A survey made during this expedition supported the earlier conclusion that the number of goats on the island would remain the same or steadily decline. Fifty-six animals were captured (leaving about 42 on the island), and although thirteen subsequently died, the remainder were grazed on two Landcorp properties in the South Island. All the females and half the males were run on a property at Ahaura in Westland, and the remaining males at Snowdon farm near Te Anau.

An important report in 1988 by Landcorp scientists, Aldous McIvor and Greg Sherley (who had made a field study of the goats during the 1987 expedition), summarized the history of the Auckland Island goats and the studies that had been made of them. They noted that the flock had not expanded its present range (only 0.5% of the island’s area) and consequently had not significantly damaged indigenous flora and fauna. They concluded that the remnant flock on Auckland Island was sufficiently important to warrant protection, and that the safest plan was to preserve the resource, with its own natural random mating and response to an environment free from man’s influence, on Auckland Island. They wrote: “The most practical management option that will retain the historical and scientific values of this flock is to retain the remnant flock on Auckland Island, where it can be studied and monitored. Failing this, the remaining animals should be captured and joined with the other captured animals in Westland. This however is not the the preferred option. The remnant flock should not be destroyed.”

McIvor and Sherley finished their report with a direct request to the Department of Conservation to review their recommendations to the Minister of Conservation with view to giving approval for the goats to remain on Auckland Island, where they should continue to be studied and monitored, and if necessary, confined to their present range. Alternatively, if protection was not granted, eradication should be deferred to enable Landcorp to capture the remaining animals.

However, the Minister decided to eradicate any goats remaining on Auckland Island, and this appears to have been carried out by 1992. The following year it was reported that there were only fifteen does and no bucks left of those that had been taken to the South Island of New Zealand, and a year later only six does remained and these were probably crossbreds.

Ross Fraser of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand made vigorous enquires about the goats in 1999, but found them to be extinct.

Content and Photo Source: New Zealand rare Breeds (www.rarebreeds.co.nz )