Goats Gone Wild

You see them in the bush, or sometimes simply standing on the side of the road—small, scrappy-looking goats with shaggy coats that are usually mixtures of white, brown, grey and black.


Wild goat (1)

If you get too close, they look at you with wild goat eyes for a few moments before fleeing into the bush. These are the feral goats of New Zealand.

Goats were first released in New Zealand by Captain Cook on his second voyage in 1773 in the hope that they would propagate and provide food on later visits. Early Europeans brought more goats and often used them to trade with the Maori. Later, more goats were brought to New Zealand for the specific purpose of providing meat, milk, and fiber.

As land was cleared in New Zealand, tenacious weeds such as gorse, blackberry, and briar often invaded. Goats were also found to be particularly well suited to keeping land clear of these noxious plants. The number of goats in New Zealand increased.



But during all this time, a certain number of goats escaped or were simply released into the wild. These goats, freed from captivity, thrived in New Zealand’s hills, forests, and scrubland. Wild populations—renegade bands of goats—proliferated, until today, an estimated several hundred thousand feral goats (Capra hircus) are found on both the North and South Island of New Zealand. They can be found on about 14% of the country’s land.


Distribution of feral goats in New Zealand (2.5)

It an oft-repeated story of New Zealand’s early years: non-native animals were relatively indiscriminately brought into the country to serve specific purposes, but because of the vulnerable environment, the animals ended up having untoward and often devastating effects.

Rabbits were brought in to provide food and fur. The rabbits multiplied and devastated grazing land. Stoats and weasels were brought in to control the rabbits. The stoats and weasels devastated the vulnerable flightless bird populations. Possums were brought in for food and fur. Possums ravaged native plants and birds.

It was much the same with the wild goats, which are without any natural predators. Feral goats cause damage both by trampling and eating vulnerable native plants—in some areas they can destroy all the vegetation within one meter of the ground—and by compacting fragile soils leading to erosion.

Goat control operations (killing the goats) were started in New Zealand in the 1930s and continue today. Currently, feral goats are considered pests and there is no seasonal restriction on hunting them. Dogs are often used to assist the hunters.

Sometimes in more remote areas a Judas goat is used to locate herds of wild goats. A captured goat is fitted with a radio-collar and released into an area. Since goats are social animals, the Judas goat will hopefully (hopefully for the hunters but not for the wild goats) join up with a wild herd allowing hunters to locate and eradicate the animals.


Judas goat—watch out for this fellow! (3)

But despite their classification as a pest, at least for us as newcomers here, it is exciting to see goats in the wild. Both sexes have horns (male’s horns are larger) and both sexes may have beards.

We’ve seen them grazing beneath Bridal Veil Falls near Raglan, and dozens of them along the roads near Mount Taranki, an area where they are particularly prevalent.

North of Auckland on a remote tramp, we saw a herd of them on cliffs above the ocean. They ran up within several feet of us before realizing we weren’t fellow goats, and then bolted back into the brush. Walking in the Kaimais, the mountains near where we live, we’ve seen numerous wild goats lazing on rocks or drinking from the streams.

I won’t trouble you with my blurred, often long-distance photographs of wild goats. By the time I get the camera out, the goats are often gone, and sometimes it is just better to look at things. To be fair, however, there are very few clear images of New Zealand’s feral goats in the wild on the Internet, so perhaps everyone has a bit of the same problem.

Australia also has feral goats. Having recently been there, I felt compelled to end with this photo I came across. Kids racing feral goats—only in Australia.


Looks like fun, doesn’t it! (4)




Photo credits:

1)Feral goats: New Zealand animal pests and threats
www.doc.govt.nz223 × 159Search by image

2)Feral goats
www.waikatoregion.govt.nz315 × 259Search by image

2.5)Distribution of feral goats – Goats and goat farming – Te Ara …
www.teara.govt.nz500 × 722Search by image

3)‪Judas the goat betrays his brethren in Kaitake Range | Stuff.co.nz
www.stuff.co.nz620 × 348Search by image

4)‪Feral goats in Australia – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
en.wikipedia.org2592 × 1944Search by image
Children racing feral goats at Woolbrook, NSW.


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