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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


In 2007 Dr D. Phillip Sponenberg, Professor of Pathology and Genetics at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Science, reported the results of a DNA analysis of Arapawa goats undertaken at the University of Córdoba in Spain. 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. 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. They found the overall within-population variation for Arapawa Island goats was low, indicating that the history of foundation and subsequent isolation is accurate. A relatively homogeneous population, the Arapawa is distinct from other goat breeds, off in a corner somewhere between Anglo-Nubian and Boer. This does not imply a relationship with these breeds, but indicates that Arapawas are very unlikely to have a European, Spanish or Portugese origin. In brief; rather than being part of a larger breed group, the 2007 research clearly showed that Arapawa goats are a breed in their own right, they are relatively inbred and genetically unique.

2009 DNA Results on Arapawas

In 2008 a second attempt was made to determine the origins of the Arapawa goats. New samples from Arapawa and other goat breeds, including English, Rawhiti (North Island New Zealand feral), Golden Guernsey, Damascus, Galápagos, and San Clemente Island, were sent to Córdoba, Spain. Their analysis of the results confirmed the Arapawa goats are a very tight genetic group far removed from other known goat breeds.

While historical evidence suggests a link to the Old English goat, the present-day English goats are very distinct from the Arapawa goats. This is not surprising for two reasons. First, the original Old English Goat was deemed extinct in the 1950's. Second, 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. Another theory was that the Arapawa goats are not unique; that various feral goat populations in New Zealand are all related. This line of thought was also proven wrong by the analysis, as the Rawhiti goats and the Arapawa goats proved to be distinctly different.

2017-2020 DNA Results on Arapawas

In 2017 tissue samples were taken from 40 Arapawa Island goats living in domestication. DNA was extracted and sent overseas to create DNA 50K SNPs. The results were sent to the Netherlands (Professor Hans Lenstra, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University) and to the US (Professor Phil Sponenberg, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine) for independent analysis. The genetic evidence proved beyond any doubt that the Arapawa goats are a unique goat breed of 'New-World' origin with a genotype going back to South African origins. However they cannot be linked to any known African breed.

May 2018, 7 Arapawa bucks were included in a worldwide study focusing on the paternal origin of goat species. Their DNA results placed them in the Y2A Haplogroup, predominantly found in central, eastern and southern Africa. This concurred with the 2017 results - the Arapawa goats are of African origin.

July 2020, 22 Arapawa goats (7 males, 15 females) from lineage not included in the earlier research projects, were DNA tested and their results compared with the 2017 group utilising Genotyping by Sequencing. NZAGA are now able to provide a genetic breed standard for the NZ Arapawa goats through NZ AgResearch.


Independent sets of samples and genotyping methods (microsatellites and SNP chips) and separate analyses have determined that a major proportion of the Arapawa goats' genome is of African origin. Not surprisingly, the Arapawa goats' closest relationship is the small feral goat found on the mainland near Arapawa Island, followed by the Kiko (a NZ created breed) and the Rangeland (an Australian feral goat breed that has clear affinity with the Boer). The science supports historical evidence that the Arapawa goats are descendants of goats introduced into New Zealand by Captain James Cook. On his final voyage, Captain Cook purchased goats at Cape Verde Islands and Cape Town. On 23rd February 1777, Cook gave a pregnant doe and a buck to Maori residing on the Eastern side of Arapawa Island. Over 240 years the goats adapted to Arapawa Island's ecological environment. While maintaining their DNA genotype, the Arapawa goats developed their own cold-weather phenotype (i.e. physical characteristics) that no longer match the South African hot-dry weather phenotype. The urban legend that they are a remnant of the Old English Goat can now be put to rest; they have no obvious genetic relationship to any known European breed.

The NZAGA wish to acknowledge and thank Drs Sponenberg, Lenstra and McEwan for their dedication in finding the origins of the NZ Arapawa goats.

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New Zealand Arapawa Goat Association

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