ARAPAWA GOATS – Discussions with the Minister of Conservation, Hon Steve Chadwick, Wednesday 9 April 2008
I thanked the Minister for the temporary reprieve granted to the goats until September.
I outlined to the Minister the “big picture” in relation to this issue. I outlined how the DNA testing by Dr Sponenberg at the University of Cordoba in Spain has revealed that this herd is unique amongst goats and is likely to have descended from the Old English Goat which became extinct in 1954.
As far as we know, the Arapawa bred is descended from an original pair left by Captain Cook on the island in 1777; therefore it has been part of New Zealand’s natural history for 230 years.
This puts this herd in an entirely different position than other feral goat herds on DOC land. Likewise that uniqueness means they can in no way be compared with possums, stoats, weasels, or rats where eradication is obviously the correct policy. Rather the responsibility, in relation to the Arapawa goats, is their preservation, not their extermination.
This is all set out in Simon Reeve’s letter to the Minister of 12 March. In particular, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992 and the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources of September 2007 confirm that New Zealand has an obligation to the preservation of this unique breed. In any event, this should happen because they are a wonderful part of New Zealand’s natural history. Accordingly the goats should be given sanctuary and valued, not exterminated. This is part of our stewardship responsibility and has been exercised elsewhere in respect of the Pitt Island Sheep, the Kaimanawa Horses and the Fiordland Wapiti.
In response to these initial comments, the DOC representatives at the meeting (Nelson Conservator, and Marlborough Regional Manager) insisted that their obligation is to preserve the most sensitive areas of flora on Arapawa Island and that they have a statutory duty to carry out in that regard. They have made a great effort to fence off that area of the island.
In response, I suggested to the Minister that this is a situation which requires a “whole of government” approach since, in this particular situation, we have two competing “public goods”. One is the long term preservation of the most sensitive areas of flora on the island and the other is the preservation of a unique breed of goats. The Minister signalled her general agreement with me on that point. However the DOC representatives said that they were not convinced that the Arapawa goats are in fact a unique breed because no studies have been undertaken to compare their DNA with that of similar goats on the mainland.
In response, I made the point that science is able to solve those questions for us. If doubt exists about the uniqueness of the breed, then DNA studies should be undertaken, and likewise a scientific approach should be adopted in relation to the flora on the island; for, in a similar way, it needs to be determined whether there is anything unique about the Arapawa flora. We should let the science guide us.
The problem though arises in relation to funding. DOC is not funded to preserve the Arapawa goats so, if the concept of a whole of government approach is accepted then that issue needs to be addressed.
Accordingly I suggested to Minister Chadwick that the Minister of Agriculture, Jim Anderton, could also have a role to play in establishing an acceptable outcome. She agreed with that point and undertook to advance it by way of initial discussions with Mr Anderton.
I then suggested that a practical way forward would be to combine a DOC/MAF initiative which would work with Betty Rowe and the others on the Island to bring together a plan for both the long term preservation of the goats and the protection of the sensitive areas of flora. The Minister seemed receptive to the concept.
In that connection, I mentioned that Betty Rowe has already established, at her own expense, the Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary which is, as I understand it, held in a perpetual trust for that purpose. Accordingly the plan should become a “partnership” of the public and private variety! I suggested that if action is taken now to develop a plan in that way, then the question of who should meet the costs involved should be held over until that plan is in place. This would enable both Ministers to look at the all important question of “Where does the funding come from?” against the background of a defined way forward.
The aim is to achieve a win/win for both the goats and any unique flora on the Island, which will be both strong and enduring.
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