Conservation of the breed began on Arapawa Island in the 1970s when the New Zealand Forest Service concluded that the goats were damaging the Native Forest reserve and were to be eliminated. Betty and Walt Rowe inserted themselves literally and figuratively to prevent the eradication of the herd. In 1987 they established a 300-acre sanctuary at Aotea with 40 goats. Walt has since died. Betty continued to care for the herd and promote their well being until her death in May, 2008. The sanctuary continues the conservation work under the trusteeship of family members. More information is available on the International Arapawa Goat Association website, www.arapawagoats.com.
The Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand has acknowledged the importance of conserving the breed. There are now several breeders there. In 1994, Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA imported 6 Arapawas accepting that they were most likely similar to the goats brought by the early settlers there in the 1600s. The breed is on display in the museum village. John Truelson, Rare Breeds Barn Manager, has managed the breeding and dissemination of goats to satellite herds from coast to coast. At this writing, there are 19 herds in the US.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) first listed Arapawa goats in their Conservation Priority List in the ‘Study’ category in 2004. The breed's Conservation Priority was elevated to 'Critical" status in January 2008 based on the DNA study noted below and the low US and global population.
In the Fall of 2006 Marilyn Burbank, an Oregon breeder, traveled to New Zealand and arranged for semen collection from 5 bucks from the conservation herd of David Hughes. This infusion will double the genetic foundation of the breed in the US.
While the specific origins of the herd found on Arapawa Island have not yet been documented to everyone’s satisfaction, phenotypical evidence points to the Old English goat that is now extinct. The Old English was the predominant goat in England at the time Australia and New Zealand were settled and likely came with the early colonists. The breed was an all-purpose family goat that was replaced in the 1870s by breeds that were considered superior in either milk or meat production.
Efforts continue to determine goat breed origins. DNA samples from US and New Zealand Arapawa herds were collected in 2006 along with several other breeds for analysis in a Spanish laboratory. Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg of the ALBC summarized the findings in the fall of 2007. The final paragraph – “The analysis indicates that the Arapawa and San Clemente are breeds, and that they are relatively inbred. The sampling technique was broad so this is no doubt accurate. Steps for effective conservation and avoidance of further inbreeding are necessary. Each is genetically unique, and not a part of a larger breed group as far as we know now.”
A supplemental DNA study concluded in 2009 reaffirmed the uniqueness of the breed but could not connect it to specific antecedents.