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About Feral Sheep

in New Zealand

Feral sheep on Arapawa Island
Feral sheep on Arapawa Island
(Photo by Betty Rowe)

      New Zealand has no native wild land mammals but with the advent of European settlement a steady stream of animals was introduced, starting with Cook's visits in the 1770s and continuing until this day. Many were deliberately released into the wild, but a number of species of domestic livestock also escaped into the more inaccessible country, particularly in the earlier days of farming when good fencing was not widespread.

      Eventually groups of feral cattle, sheep, goats and horses became established in various areas – as well as pigs, which were often deliberately liberated. Many of these wild populations were found not only on mainland New Zealand but also on the offshore and Subantarctic islands, often descendants of livestock deliberately introduced as a food supply for shipwrecked sailors.

Stewart Island ram
Stewart Island ram (Photo by Kath & Ron Gallagher)

      In recent years efforts have been made to wipe out feral livestock, largely because of the damage they cause to native vegetation. However, it was recognized that these feral animals, especially those groups which were established during the nineteenth century and which had had little or no contact with modern livestock breeds, could well have important genetic characteristics that have been lost in today's domestic breeds. Representatives of these groups have been rescued and are now being farmed throughout the country.

      The Rare Breeds Conservation Society recognizes the following breeds that have been obtained from feral populations in New Zealand, listed in geographical order, north to south, followed by off-shore islands – names in blue link to breed description/photo pages – Raglan, Mohaka, Omahaki, Arapawa, Clarence, Woodstock, Diggers Hill, Hokonui, Stewart Island, Chatham Island, Pitt Island, and Campbell Island.


NOTE: In an article on » Feral Sheep in New Zealand that was published in 1976, flocks were listed from the following nine localities: Omahaki, Mohaka, Arapawa Island, Clarence, Waianakarua, Hokonui, Chatham Island, Pitt Island, Campbell Island.   By 1984 flocks from Raglan and Woodstock had also been recognized. (See references below.)
    A 1990 publication listed Ngaruroro, Mohaka, Arapawa Island, Wairau, Clarence, Waimakariri, Waianakarua, Waipori Gorge, Hokonui, Chatham Island, Pitt Island, and Campbell Island, with reference to feral sheep having been cleared from Raglan and Takitimu, and exterminated from Mangere Island, Southeast Island and Kapiti Island.   Of the above, Ngaruroro can probably be equated with Omahaki, Waimakariri with Woodstock, and Takitimu with Diggers Hill.
    More recently, sheep have been obtained from ferals on Stewart Island, and the Waianakarua sheep have become better known as Herbert.   In 2003 the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand adopted a policy statement on » Feral Breeds in general.

1976 – A. H. Whitaker, "Feral Sheep in New Zealand" in The Value of Feral Farm Animals in New Zealand, edited by A. H. Whitaker and M. R. Rudge, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.
1984 – D. F. G. Orwin and A. H. Whitaker, "Feral Sheep of Arapawa Island..." in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology, Volume 11.
1989 – List of feral breeds recognized, in Committee Minutes of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand, 27 January 1989.
1990 – M. R. Rudge, "Feral Sheep" in The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals, edited by Carolyn M. King. Oxford University Press, Auckland.
1995 – FAO Domestic Animal Diversity Information System website database.
2002 – Roland Sumner, "Characteristics of Some Rare Breeds of Sheep" in Rare Breeds NewZ, No.59, December 2002.
2003 – Committee Minutes of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand, 15 November 2003.

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