Breed Profile: Arapawa Goat

Arapawa Island Goat Is Unique and Worthy of Urgent Conservation

Breed Profile: Arapawa Goat

Reading Time: 5 minutes

BREED: The Arapawa goat is named for the island where they have lived feral for at least 180 years.

ORIGIN: Arapaoa Island (previously Arapawa Island) in Marlborough Sounds, which is a network of sea-drowned valleys at the northern tip of South Island, New Zealand.

The History of the Goat on Arapawa Island

Ocean explorers James Cook and Tobias Furneaux sailed from England with goats on board in 1772 and took more on board at Cape Verde Islands. In 1773, they anchored at Ship Cove across the Queen Charlotte Sound from Arapaoa Island. Here they gifted a breeding pair of goats to local Māori. In June, they set a breeding pair wild on a remote cove in Arapaoa Island. Cook also lost a buck at Ship Cove during their stay. From these goats a local population may have arisen, although Cook later heard that the feral pair on Arapaoa Island had been hunted and killed. However, Arapawa goats closely resemble the Old English goats that were boarded as ship’s goats, and not the Cape Verde goats, who were described as “a few long-legged goats, with strait horns and pendulous ears.”

Arapawa goat doe at Philadelphia Zoo. Photo credit: John Donges/flickr CC BY-ND 2.0.

Captain Cook returned in 1777 with “English goats” and goats boarded at the Cape of Good Hope “intended for New Zealand.” A breeding pair of which the female was already pregnant was gifted to a Māori chief. There are several accounts of free-roaming ship’s goats, notably an English buck, and it is likely that the goats on board interbred. This would account for the Old English appearance of the Arapawa goat, while genetic evidence shows traces of African ancestry.

By 1839, British colonial administrator Edward Wakefield recorded his observations of Arapaoa Island children being “… active and hardy as the goats with which the settlement also swarmed.” It appears that goats lived feral and domesticated on the island and surrounding areas of the Sound, as they do in much reduced numbers today.


Modern History and Conservation

In the 1970s, the New Zealand Forest Service attempted to eradicate feral goats from Arapaoa Island, which were perceived as destructive to woodland. Betty and Walter Rowe had recently moved to the island with their three children after moving to New Zealand from suburban Pennsylvania in 1969. The family’s goal was a more natural and self-sufficient lifestyle in a rural environment. As Rowe got to know the feral goats as she wandered through the countryside, she felt strongly moved to prevent their eradication. With dedicated volunteers, she aimed to save the goats, finally establishing a 300 acre reserve in 1987 with 40 head. A number of goats were sent to the mainland to be conserved by enthusiasts.

In 1993, three does and three bucks were imported for the 17th-Century English Village at Plimoth Plantation (now renamed Plimoth Patuxet) in Massachusetts. From here, breeding was managed to provide maximum genetic diversity and herds distributed to several breeders from Massachusetts to Oregon. In 2005 and 2006, further imports of semen from various bucks allowed expansion of the gene pool in America.

Arapawa doe and kid at Plimoth Patuxet. Photo credit: sailn1/flickr CC BY 2.0.

In 2013, the New Zealand’s Department of Conservation granted breeders permission to recover three bucks and six does from the feral population, which has enabled them to expand the breed’s genetic diversity.

CONSERVATION STATUS: With a tiny population, this goat is extremely rare, and listed as “Critical” by the Livestock Conservancy. In 2019, there were 211 recorded in the U.S.; in 1993, a maximum of 200 in New Zealand; and in 2012, 155 in Britain.

Characteristics of the Arapawa Goat

BIODIVERSITY: DNA analysis has revealed that Arapawa goats are unique and only distantly related to other breeds, making them a conservation priority as a source of adaptive genes. Some relationship was found with goats from South Africa. Descent from the Old English goat is more difficult to prove as both populations are very small and have evolved in isolation for many generations. Analysis also shows relatively high inbreeding, due to their long isolation and small population size. Conservation breeders are careful to ensure breeding pairs are not recently related.


DESCRIPTION: Medium-sized, light-framed but strong-legged, with a round belly. Females are slender, while males stocky. Facial profile is straight to concave. Ears are erect with a crimp that frequently folds the tips down to eye level. Horns curve backwards with a slight outward twist. Males’ horns are thicker, flatter, and sweep outwards. Hair is normally short, thick, and fluffy, often lengthening at the top of legs and along the spine, but may be long all over. A thick undercoat grows for winter. Females are frequently bearded, and males grow thick beards. Wattles are absent.

Arapawa Buck

COLORING: A wide variety of patterns and colors exist, blending various shades of black, brown, cream, and white. Dark or pale facial stripes are common.

HEIGHT TO WITHERS: Does 24–28 in. (61–71 cm); bucks 26–30 in. (66–76 cm).

WEIGHT: Does 60–80 lb. (27–36 kg); bucks up to 125 lb. (57 kg), average 88 lb. (40 kg).

POPULAR USE: Currently kept in conservation herds to preserve their contribution to goat biodiversity. However, their small size, self-reliance, and frugality would make them ideal multi-purpose goats for the homestead. Their rarity makes it difficult to find breeders. People seeking arapawa goats for sale should get in touch with the associations listed below in “Sources”.

PRODUCTIVITY: Does breed in all seasons and twins are common.

Arapawa kids at Beale Wildlife Park, England. Photo credit: Marie Hale/ CC BY 2.0.

Nature and Adaptations

TEMPERAMENT: Alert and wary when feral, they become friendly and make excellent family goats if handled gently in early life. Active, suited to ranging and foraging, else opportunities to exercise must be provided.

ADAPTABILITY: Hardy and self-sufficient in their native terrain and well-adjusted to cold temperatures. Does make excellent mothers.

QUOTES: “At our small farm, we are using the goats, now 18 of them, to clear underbrush from a forest of red oaks, which they do with relish … Birthing is unassisted. Health issues are almost nonexistent.” Al Caldwell, former registrar of AGB, 2004, Rare Breeds NewZ 66.

“When the first Arapawas arrived … I fell in love with their disposition. One was such as sweetheart, basically almost a gentleman.” Callene Rapp, current registrar of AGB, quoted by Amy Hadachek, 2018, Saving the Arapawa Goat, Goat Journal 96, 1.


  • New Zealand Arapawa Goat Association
  • Arapawa Goat Breeders Association (AGB)
  • The Livestock Conservancy
  • Sevane, N., Cortés, O., Gama, L.T., Martínez, A., Zaragoza, P., Amills, M., Bedotti, D.O., De Sousa, C.B., Cañon, J., Dunner, S., and Ginja, C., 2018. Dissection of ancestral genetic contributions to Creole goat populations. Animal, 12(10), 2017–2026.
  • Nijman, I.J., Rosen, B.D., Zheng, Z., Jiang, Y., Cumer, T., Daly, K.G., Bâlteanu, V.A., Berger, B., Blichfeldt, T., Boink, G., and Carolan, S., 2020. Phylogeny and distribution of Y-chromosomal haplotypes in domestic, ancient and wild goats. bioRxiv.

Originally published in the March/April 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

Conner Prairie‘s efforts to save Arapawa goats at their living history outdoor farm in Indiana.

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