No Ordinary Goat – The story of New Zealand’s Arapawa Goats.  Alison Sutherland.  2016

No Ordinary Goat – The story of New Zealand’s Arapawa Goats. Alison Sutherland. 2016

Sutherland, Alison
No Ordinary Goat – The story of New Zealand’s Arapawa Goats
New Zealand Arapawa Goat Association
ISBN 978-0-473-37484-6
224 pages.

For those who are not familiar with New Zealand, the north-eastern side of Queen Charlotte Sound is not part of the mainland of the South Island – as Cook initially thought.  That stretch of coastline is actually a 30 km long island separated from the mainland by a narrow channel at its southern end.  That island is Arapawa Island.


This book provides an interesting account of some people who believe that the goats on Arapawa Island are descended from those released there by Captain Cook.  The author relates how she and her friends have tried to preserve the Arapawa breed of goat in the face of attempts to eradicate it by the NZ Government, which views the animal as an
invasive, alien species.


The first three chapters of the book are devoted to Cook’s three voyages, which all included him stop-ping at Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound.  The author has a very readable style.  She incorporates into her text many extracts from the journals of Cook and his fellow officers.  The reader is reminded that Cook’s First Voyage carried the goat that had previously circumnavigated the world with Captain Wallis in Dolphin.  After her second circumnavigation, in Endeavour, Cook is said to have taken the goat back to his home in Mile End. 


In contrast, each of Cook’s ships on his Second and Third Voyages was a veritable Ark, carrying cattle, sheep, goats, ducks and chickens, etc.  The author has compiled a list of all references to the goats that she found in the journals of the ships’ officers.  Dr. Sutherland paid particular attention to those occasions when the animals were taken ashore.  Sometimes Cook presented a breeding pair to a Maori chief, and at other times he released animals into the wild.  The author examined where Cook had released the goats in New Zealand, and estimated that several breeding pairs had been left on Arapawa Island during the course of the voyages.


The releasing of goats on Arapawa Island by Captain Cook is uncontested by all parties.  What the NZ Government disputes is whether the goats on the island in the 21st century are descended from Cook’s original stock.  In order to strengthen her argument, the author has examined who visited the island in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  In addition to the whalers and sealing ships that ventured into Queen Charlotte Sound, there were visits by Russian and French expeditions.  In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the author concludes that none of these visits resulted in any goats being brought to Arapawa Island, hence they must be descendants of those left by Captain Cook. 


The author reports an encounter in 1832 between officers of HMS Zebra and Maori who wished to trade with them.  She uses a detail from this event to demonstrate that Maori had goats in their possession, but nowhere in her book is there any consideration that Maori may have released some of their goats onto Arapawa Island.


The author then examines the impact of the first Europeans who settled on Arapawa Island in the 1830s.  Whilst these settlers may have brought livestock with them, the introduction of these animals cannot account for the numerous goats that were observed to be already on the island.


In chapter five, the reader is introduced to the range of goats that existed in Britain (and Africa) during the late 18th century.  I was amazed to read that so many distinct breeds existed in Britain. Even I, with no knowledge of goats, could easily distinguish between the breeds presented in the book, so different were their identifying character-istics!  A simple comparison of these breeds with the characteristics of a goat from Arapawa Island showed that the latter must be descended from the “English Milch Goat”.  It was hoped that DNA analysis would confirm this line of descent, but it has not been possible as the old English Milch Goat breed died out in the 1950s.


Having presented the history of how the goats arrived on Arapawa Island, Dr. Sutherland then turns her attention to more recent history, and examines the decline of the goat population.  This commenced soon after 1977, when the NZ Government passed the Wild Animal Control Act.  As a result of this Act, the Department of Conser-vation (DOC) was responsible for eradicating all exotic species (including goats) from offshore islands.  Using hunters and poison, goats had been eradicated from 16 offshore islands by 1990.  Only seven inhabited islands remained, including Arapawa.  It looked as if the days of the Arapawa Goats were numbered!


Chapter eight introduces the reader to Betty and Walter Rowe, an American couple who settled on Arapawa Island in 1972.  If this book were a film, Betty Rowe’s appearance would be accompanied by the sound of the bugles of the US Cavalry as they galloped over the hill to rescue the situation!  The 1977 Act authorised the killing of goats that were feral and lived in the wild.  Goats that had been “domesticated”, and now lived on a farm, were exempt from the death sentence.  So Betty established her own Wildlife Reserve on the island, and when the DOC’s hunters eventually arrived, those animals living on Betty’s reserve survived.


As well as providing direct support for the Arapawa Goats, Betty began an enthusiastic and relentless campaign to educate conservationists and politicians, and persuade them of the error of their ways in destroying a unique breed of goat.  For over 30 years, until her death in 2008, she battled bureaucracy, and began to see a turn in the tide.  The DOC eventually recognised that problems caused by wild goat populations could be mini-mised by introducing an appropriate management plan, rather than relying on the eradication of the population.


Then in 1992, there was a major sea change in international attitudes towards biological diversity.  Following a United Nations conference, the NZ Government signed up to the Convention on Biological Diversity.  In adopting this convention the Government implicitly recognised that it had a responsibility to “maintain the genetic resources of introduced species that are important for economic, biological and cultural reasons”.


Arapawa Goat supporters suddenly realised that legislation may be on their side.  All they had to do was convince the DOC that the genetic resource of the introduced goats was sufficiently important to be worthy of preservation.


Sutherland succinctly summarises the nub of the problem in Chapter 10, saying “It is all in the inter-pretation”.  The assessment of whether a species’ gene pool is important is not an objective measure-ment of the number of chromosomes, or the length of an animal’s horns.  It is a subjective assessment that draws on a wide range of factors, depending upon which side you support.  I found this chapter the most intriguing in the book, as the author debates the pros and cons of the opposing sides.


Chapters 13 and 14 recount the steps that have been taken to domesticate the Arapawa goats, both in New Zealand and abroad.  Thanks to several members of the NZ Rare Breeds Conservation Society, Arapawa goats are now thriving at various locations.  As a result of Betty Rowe’s crusade to save the breed, in 1994, six goats were exported to the historic Plimoth Plantation site in Massa-chusetts, USA.  A decade later, six more goats were exported, this time to the UK.


So the wheel has turned full circle, and the UK is once again the home of descendants of old English Milch Goat, thanks to the hard work of Betty Rowe and her supporters—and, of course, Captain Cook!


I thoroughly enjoyed reading this lavishly illustrated book.  The author, a member of the Captain Cook Society, has provided a detailed
history of Cook’s goats and their subsequent population of Arapawa Island.  Her review of changing legislation in New Zealand makes fascinating reading, although some readers may be saddened by the number of goats killed by the DOC’s extermination programme.  


Like all good books, this one has a happy ending, with the breed surviving in New Zealand and even returning to the UK.


It is up to the readers of the book to decide whether it contains sufficient evidence to show, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Arapawa Goats are direct descendants from those left by Captain Cook.  The author clearly thinks that is the case.



Cliff Thornton

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 44, volume 40, number 3 (2017).

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