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New Zealand Arapawa Goat Association

New Zealand Arapawa Goat Association

(Incorporating the International Arapawa Goat Association)


Betty Rowe

This tribute to Betty Rowe was written for the
August 2008 issue of Growing Today by Michael Trotter. Photo by Gail Simons.

Betty Rowe, long time champion of the Arapawa Goats, died peacefully in Fairview Hospital, Blenheim, at 5.30 am on Sunday 18 May 2008. An obituary in The Marlborough Express described her as “One of the Marlborough Sounds most enduring and high profile people,” and there can be little doubt that she will be universally remembered for over 35 years of work for the feral breeds of Arapawa Island – pigs, sheep and especially goats – who owe their very survival to her.

Betty’s introduction to the feral animals began when two orphaned goats and a lamb were brought into the homestead not long after she with husband Walt and three children, Mitch, Mary and Roy, had made their home on Arapawa Island. Originally from North America, the family had emigrated to New Zealand, and after a spell on the mainland had bought a farm property on the Island.

Betty got into fighting mode when she learned of plans by government departments to "cull" the feral animals on the Island because of the apparent damage they were causing to native vegetation.

“Within the forests there dwelled some beautiful goats, sheep and pigs,” she wrote some time ago, “all of ancient lineage and all condemned to extermination. The edict had been sounded that they were to be shot, but somehow I just could not let this happen. The goats held an immediate attraction for me because of their beauty and intelligence, and I had come to know the family groups as I walked the paths carved into the hillsides over the years by the trekkings of the wildlife. The dark-eyed wild sheep, so wary and aloof, were less visible than the goats, preferring to slip away into the shadows and I came to know them only slowly. I encountered the wild pigs with some trepidation, having heard tales of their ferocity, but they left me to my wanderings, and I left them to theirs.” Later she made friends with some of the pigs, and one of them, named Sassy, died at her home last year at the respectable age of thirteen years.

Betty’s long and passionate campaign on behalf of the animals was initially directed against shooters from the Government Forest Service but later the Department of Conservation, and the battle was still in progress when she suffered a stroke three weeks before she died. In her efforts with the goats in particular, she had the willing support of helpers from throughout New Zealand and overseas, and backing from a number of eminent organizations such as the Rare Breeds Survival Trust of Great Britain and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Betty was anxious to learn more of the goats’ historical background, and liked to think that they might be of the Old English breed and that they may have originated from a pair left in the Sounds by Captain Cook in the late eighteenth century. She was sure, right from the beginning, that they were something special. And although recent DNA testing has shown that the Arapawa goats are indeed a distinct and unique breed, their origins and arrival date have as yet been neither proved nor disproved.

It has been said in certain circles that she might have achieved better results if she hadn’t been so outspoken and single-minded in her role as an animal advocate. But the fact that we still have Arapawa goats, sheep and pigs must speak highly of her methods and her dedication to the cause. On the New Zealand mainland and on outlying islands many other feral animals have been exterminated in the name of conservation during the same few decades.

A few years ago Betty and Walt set aside about 300 acres on the Island as a reserve – the Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary – to provide a permanent home for the goats, pigs and sheep. While it is important to have these animals living in the area where they developed, the Sanctuary alone may not be sufficient to ensure their survival. To this end Betty has encouraged mainland breeders of these animals, and was pleased to have goats exported to both Great Britain and the United States. Unfortunately, most breeders have only a small number of them, so the gene pool is effectively very restricted.

Many of us treasure privileged memories of the lady herself. I first met Betty when I was doing archaeological work on Arapawa Island over thirty years ago. She introduced us to her goats with enthusiasm and passion, and that evening we had dinner with her and Walt beneath a huge cartwheel lamp-holder that hovered above the table. The conversation was wide ranging – life experiences, random thoughts and ideas, the state of the world...

And last year a friend and I spent a few relaxing days with Betty. It was great to watch goats come out of the bush and stroll along the foreshore in front her house. The Arapawa pig, Sassy, was an honoured resident of her yard (sharing it with a couple of geese), and there were some favoured young goats that she had hand reared running around, even under the house. Some scraggly looking Arapawa sheep stayed in the background. My fondest memory is of sitting on the veranda in the summer evenings, looking out over the Sound until it got too dark to see. She was having the odd sip of gin; I had a dram (or two) of Glenfiddich, and my dog Galla was wondering how we could find so many things to talk about. It was magic.

Return to Betty Rowe – Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary

See also tributes written for Rare Breeds NewZ,   Lifestyle Farmer,   ALBC News, and The Ark.

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