When people think about New Zealand’s animals, they usually imagine our birds: the kiwi, the smart and mischievous kea and our flirty little fantails. But some of our animals, just like our people, originally came from somewhere else. They made New Zealand their home, raised families over many generations and became naturalised to their environment.
With our recent Waitangi Day celebrations in mind, we want to introduce you to three of New Zealand’s animal settlers. They’re dear to our hearts here at Animal Farm because they’re all rare and we’ve made it our special mission to support and protect rare breeds.
Each of these breeds is a survivor. They all embody the toughness, adaptability and resourcefulness that every pioneer needs to survive in a strange new land.
Pitt Island sheep—don’t fence me in
These magnificent feral sheep are most often coloured brown. They shed their fleeces, so they don’t require shearing. The rams have some of the longest horns of any sheep, measuring up to a metre along the curve, and the lambs are so strong and wild that at a week old it’s virtually impossible to run them down.
Pitt Island sheep are descended from Saxony (or Spanish) merinos. There’s some disagreement about who first introduced them to Pitt Island, which is about 750 kilometres east of the South Island and one of the largest islands in the Chatham archipelago. Some say Samuel Marsden, co-founder of New Zealand’s wool industry, did the deed sometime between 1814 and 1837. Others say that a Baron von Alsdorf started a colony on another island in the Chathams and moved the flock to Pitt Island in 1841.
Initially used as a meat source for whalers, the sheep were left to their own devices when the industry died out. They reverted back to their wild state adapted to the local conditions. In time, they became a breed in their own right.
Pitt Island Sheep still live on their home island but there are also some dotted around mainland New Zealand, including a flock of more than 3,000 on a Banks Peninsula farm in Canterbury. They are not found anywhere else in the world.
Kunekune pigs—what’s not to love?
Seriously, could these be any cuter?! Kunekune are delightful little pigs, sweet-natured and inquisitive. They love human company and, like all pigs, are smart and easily-trained.
Their name means “fat and round” in Māori and this perfectly sums up how they look. They have short legs, a snub snout, and distinctive “tassels” hanging from their lower jaws. Their coats come in a wide range of colours and vary from short and sleek to long and messy.
It’s believed that whalers first brought Kunekune to New Zealand in the 1800s and traded them with Māori. Their numbers spread, thanks to the Māori custom of giving live presents on special occasions, but the population shrank over the following century. In the 1970s there were only around 50 purebred Kunekune left in New Zealand.
The attention the breed has since enjoyed has helped to preserve it. Although still considered rare, Kunekune now number in the thousands and these adorable piggies have found new homes in America, Europe and the United Kingdom.
Arapawa Goats—controversial conservation
The Arapawa is one of the rarest goat breeds in the world, with less than 400 remaining. It’s thought these unique goats descend from breeding pairs left on Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds by Captain James Cook on his second and third voyages in 1773 and 1777. They lived there undisturbed for the next two centuries.
Arapawa goats are small and very attractive, with distinctive striped markings on their faces. Both sexes have horns and beards. Colour varies widely and includes various browns, cream, white, red and black. Their coats are short and fluffy, especially on their hind legs.
When tamed, the goats are very affectionate but they’re also amazing jumpers and clever escape artists! The kids are incredibly cute and lots of fun.
In the 1970s, Arapawa goats were classified as pests on their home island and a government-sponsored culling programme commenced, which continues today. Arapawa Island resident Betty Rowe devoted over three decades to preserving the island’s goats, sheep and pigs, setting up a 300-acre wildlife sanctuary to protect them. There are now breeding programmes in the United States and England but these beautiful little goats remain critically close to extinction.
How you can help protect these rare New Zealand animals
Animal Farm is committed to breeding and preserving over 40 varieties of rare animals including those we’ve introduced to you today. You can support us by visiting Animal Farm and spreading the word about us through your social media networks. By sharing the love, you’re helping us continue this important work and we appreciate it!
Follow the links below to learn more about Pitt Island sheep, Kunekune pigs and Arapawa goats, and how people are working to save them: