Breed Profile: Kri-Kri Goat
Cretan Ibex Revealed as Primitive Domestic Goat
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Breed: The kri-kri goat is also known as the Cretan wild goat, Cretan ibex, or agrimi, meaning “the wild one”. Classified as Capra aegagrus cretica, a subspecies of wild goat. However, IUCN taxonomy specialists declared in 2000 that “The Cretan agrimi … is a domestic form and should not be considered a subspecies of wild goat.”
Origin: Brought to the Greek island of Crete, in the Mediterranean Sea, by Neolithic settlers about 8000 years ago, or earlier by sailors. Goats migrated from the Near East (their region of natural range) with people, either as early domesticates or as wild animals. Since prehistory, sailors have left wild species on Mediterranean islands to allow hunting for food on later trips, and Crete lies on a popular sea route. Ancient kri-kri goat bones have been identified at Knossos from about 8000 years ago and later. Remains were found with those of other domestic animals and bore signs of domestic use. Genetic analysis suggests that they were introduced at an early stage of domestication, or introduced wild and then later interbred with Neolithic domesticates.
Ancient Kri-Kri Goat Gone Feral
History: After import to Crete, they were released, or escaped human control, to live feral in the mountainous parts of the island. Here, they have been hunted since Neolithic times until the twentieth century. Indeed, Minoan art from 3000–5700 years ago depicts them as game. Homer referred to an isle of goats in The Odyssey, over 2600 years ago. Other islands were similarly populated to serve as game reserves. As goats prospered on the sparse vegetation and rocky terrain of many of the islands, they made ideal inhabitants.
Their presence is recorded officially in Crete since the eighteenth century. However, due to hunting and habitat loss to human activities, they are now limited to the White Mountains, Samariá Gorge, and the islet of Agios Theodoros. In addition, they have been eliminated from most other islands, except a few where they have interbred with domestic goats. Between 1928 and 1945, breeding pairs were introduced to a reserve on Agios Theodoros, which had no previous goat population, to provide a source of pure-bred animals to stock zoos and mainland reserves.
Population Decline and Habitat Loss
By 1960, there were fewer than 200 kri-kri in the White Mountains. As such a low population is a serious threat to survival, Samariá National Park was founded in 1962, mainly as a kri-kri reserve. Gradually, it became a major tourist attraction for the island, providing dramatic and picturesque hiking over a nine mile (15 km) trail. Since 1981, it has been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to protect the ecosystem and landscape, while allowing sustainable activities.
By 1996, kri-kri numbers recovered to about 500, with 70 on Agios Theodoros.
Conservation Status: The loss and fragmentation of habitat poses a threat to their survival, especially since 1980 when grazing pressure increased. They are protected by Samariá National Park, numbering 600–700 in 2009, but possibly declining.
The main problems are hybridization with domestic goats, which weakens their unique adaptation to their environment and dilutes their biodiversity. Female kri-kri are observed to reject the advances of domestic bucks, and they can easily outrun them. Most interbreeding appears to occur between kri-kri bucks and domestic does. However, hybridization has already occurred in wild populations on other islands. Habitat fragmentation increases the risk, extending areas where the ranges of kri-kri and free-ranging domestic herds overlap.
In addition, where numbers are low, such as on Agios Theodoros and populations imported from there, inbreeding becomes an issue. Finally, although reserves protect from hunting, poaching is still a threat.
The Kri-Kri Goat Preserves Wild and Primitive Traits
Biodiversity: From genetic analysis so far, they present greater diversity than populations on other islands. Although wild-type in appearance, they seem more closely related to Near East domestic goats than to the wild goat. Further genetic analysis may reveal more as to their origin.
Description: Similar to the wild goat in horn shape and body form, although generally smaller. Males are bearded and have large scimitar-shaped horns, up to 31 inches (80 cm) in length, curved backwards, with irregular lumps on a sharp leading edge. Females’ horns are smaller.
Coloring: As wild-type, but paler with broader markings: brown flanks, white underbelly, and a distinct black line along the spine. The male has a dark line over the shoulders to the base of the neck, forming a collar, and along the lower edge of the flank. These markings are darker during the rutting season, but become paler with age. Coat color varies with season from tawny-gray in winter to pale chestnut in summer. Females’ faces are striped dark and light, while mature males’ are dark. Both have black and cream markings on the lower legs.
Height to Withers: Average 33 in. (85 cm), while normally 37 in. (95 cm) in the wild goat.
Weight: Males are much larger than females, reaching 200 lb. (90 kg), while females average 66 lb. (30 kg).
Productivity: Sexual maturation is slow, as in wild goats: males 3 years; females 2 years. They breed in October–November for kidding in early spring.
Tourists: a Mutual Attraction
Popular Use: Tourism, attracting 150,000 visitors per year; symbol of the White Mountains, Samariá Gorge, and the island of Crete; game on private reserves.
Temperament: As an emblem of Crete, local people relate strongly to kri-kri personality. Elusive in the wild, but inquisitive, and readily becoming tame enough to feed by hand. When domestic dams mate with feral bucks, the hybrid offspring often stray and are difficult to herd.
Adaptability: Kri-kri seek out steep slopes, away from roads and settlements, living in dry mountain and alpine areas to rocky sites with brush and woodland, near coniferous forests. They survive by their own means in the wild for, on average, 11–12 years.
Quotes: “Crete has a very primitive goat from the Middle East (as do two other Aegean islands) … their ancestors were ‘only just’ domestic, implying that they derive from quite an early era in the history of goat domestication … as such they are extremely valuable documents of the early stages of the domestication process.” Groves C.P., 1989. Feral mammals of the Mediterranean islands: documents of early domestication. In: Clutton-Brock J. (ed) The Walking Larder, 46–58.
- Bar‐Gal, G.K., Smith, P., Tchernov, E., Greenblatt, C., Ducos, P., Gardeisen, A. and Horwitz, L.K., 2002. Genetic evidence for the origin of the agrimi goat (Capra aegagrus cretica). Journal of Zoology, 256(3), 369–377.
- Horwitz, L.K. and Bar-Gal, G.K., 2006. The origin and genetic status of insular caprines in the eastern Mediterranean: a case study of free-ranging goats (Capra aegagrus cretica) on Crete. Human Evolution, 21(2), 123–138.
- Katsaounis, C., 2012. Habitat use of the endangered and endemic Cretan Capricorn and impact of domestic goats. Thesis. Twente (ITC).
- Masseti, M., 2009. The wild goats Capra aegagrus Erxleben, 1777 of the Mediterranean Sea and the Eastern Atlantic Ocean islands. Mammal Review, 39(2), 141–157.
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Originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.