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New Zealand Arapawa Goat Association

New Zealand Arapawa Goat Association

(Incorporating the International Arapawa Goat Association)

Arapawa goats
Arapawa goats at the Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary


DNA of Arapawa Goats

Dr Phillip Sponenberg

Dr D. Phillip Sponenberg, Professor of Pathology and Genetics at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Science, has reported the results of a DNA analysis of Arapawa goats that was undertaken at the University of Córdoba in Spain in 2007. The analysis was undertaken by Ámparo Martínez Martínez and Juan Vicente Delgado Bermejo using 26 microsatellites as part of a larger programme which also included the rare San Clemente Island and USA ‘Spanish’ goats as well as cattle, pigs and horses. Dr Sponenberg noted that the Arapawa goats “are special, because they are an isolated group distantly related to other breeds. They are therefore a conservation priority in their own right, as a domesticated genetic resource.”

Goat breeds included in the analysis were from Spain: Majorera, Palmera, Tinerfeña, Blanca Andaluza, Blanca Celtíberica, Malagueña, Murciana, Granadina. From Latin America: Moxotó (Brazil), Criolla Boliviana (Bolivia), Criolla Cubana (Cuba). Others were Cape Verde, Alpine, Boer, Anglo-Nubian, and Saanen.

The overall within-population variation for Arapawa and San Clemente Island goats was low, for Spanish goats was higher. This indicates that the history of foundation and subsequent isolation for Arapawa and San Clemente Island goats is accurate. These are relatively homogeneous populations, and each distinct from the other.

When compared to other populations, the USA Spanish group clusters strongly with the other Iberian breeds. This indicates that the history on these is indeed accurate, and that they belong here. The Arapawa does not cluster here, but is off in a corner somewhere between Anglo-Nubian and Boer. This does not imply a relationship with these breeds, but does indicate that Arapawas are very unlikely to have had an Iberian origin. The San Clemente Island goats are also very remote from the other breeds. Some aspects of the analysis suggest a similar remoteness from other breeds for the Arapawa, but that should be followed up by further analysis with a broader array of breeds in the comparison. Specifically, if the Arapawas are ‘Old English’ then including more North Atlantic goat breeds would likely point to this conclusion.

The analysis indicates that the Arapawa goats are a breed in their own right, and that they are relatively inbred. The sampling technique was broad (not all from one subpopulation) so this is no doubt accurate. Steps for effective conservation and avoidance of further inbreeding are necessary. Both the Arapawa and the San Clemente are genetically unique, and not a part of a larger breed group as far as we know at this time.

2009 DNA Results on Arapawas

In a further attempt to try to figure out where Arapawa goats came from, additional samples from Arapawas and from other goat breeds were sent to Córdoba, Spain in 2008. We now have more results, a few more answers, and a lot more questions!

The short summary is that Arapawa goats still form a very tight genetic group that is far removed from other goat breeds. A few other goat breeds were added for comparison, including a few English goats, as well as Rawhiti (North Island New Zealand feral), Golden Guernsey, Damascus, Galápagos, and San Clemente Island.

History suggests a link to the Old English goat, but the present-day goats in that gene pool are very distinct from the Arapawa goats. This may be less surprising than at face value, because even if originally related both of the populations have been isolated for a few hundred years. A few hundred years is enough goat generations to make things distinct through genetic drift, even if originally related.

A second thought was that the various feral goat populations in New Zealand might all be related. This line of thought was also proven wrong by the analysis, as the Rawhiti goats and the Arapawa goats proved very distinct.

At this point we are somewhat grasping at straws, but even the contention that some of the various feral island populations might be close to one another is denied by the DNA evidence. Each island population (Galápagos, Rawhiti, Arapawa, San Clemente) proved very distinct from the others. The Rawhiti and Galápagos were arguably closer to the others, but were still very distinct one from the other. In addition, the Spanish Islands group (Majorero, Tinerfeño, Palmero) made a group but it was distinct from the others.

It remains uncertain exactly where the Arapawa goats hail from originally. While that still leaves us with a perplexing mystery, the uniqueness of these goats has once again been validated. That is a powerful argument in favour of conserving them rather than losing them to extinction.

Many thanks to Dr Sponenberg for the above information.

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New Zealand Arapawa Goat Association

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