Goat Rescue Conserves Rare Breed of Spanish Goats

A rare and isolated population of Spanish goats is at the forefront of conservation efforts by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

| June 11, 2010

  • Goat kids rest peacefully.
    Goat kids resting peacefully in a volunteer's arms.
    courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
  • The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy heads efforts to save Spanish goats on an island off the coast of South Carolina.
    A volunteer greets a herd of Spanish goats.
    courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy

  • Goat kids rest peacefully.
  • The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy heads efforts to save Spanish goats on an island off the coast of South Carolina.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has completed the first phase of rescuing an isolated population of Spanish goats on an island in South Carolina. This population is one of only two known strains of Spanish goats to exist in the Southeast. Their genetics are extremely valuable to the Spanish goat population as a whole, which currently numbers less than 7,500 animals in the entire United States.

This specific population has adapted to the challenges of the hot, humid, swampy environment of the Southeast for 500 years. These adaptations are unique among Spanish goats and are worth conserving.

According to Dr. Phil Sponenberg, professor of pathology and genetics at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, “Spanish goats are important as one of the main landrace representatives in the US for the goat species. As is true of landrace livestock, they tend to be adapted and productive in compromising environments. The southeastern representatives of the landrace are extremely important, because these are the very ones expected to have the most inherent resistance to parasites and other environmental challenges. These few remaining herds are extremely important to save as an intact genetic resource.”

Due to inbreeding and predation, the South Carolina Spanish goat population is threatened with extinction. Just 30 years ago, there were over 100 goats on the island. Today, fewer than 30 remain. These animals possess valuable genetics that need to be maintained for future generations. Removing selected animals from the population and placing them into a conservation breeding program will ensure the survival of this unique strain.

On May 15, ALBC staff members Jeannette Beranger and Marjorie Bender traveled to South Carolina to complete the initial phase of the removal process. Previous trips ensured the herd was documented and photographed. Photographs were then evaluated by Sponenberg, ALBC’s technical advisor, to determine Spanish phenotype and to identify target conservation animals prior to beginning removal. 

ALBC staff members worked closely with the local community to ensure they were educated about the breed and the process for removing the animals. They were supportive of the efforts and a local Native American group, Keepers of the Word, assisted with the rescue. The group consisted of teens and their leaders from the Keepers of the Word “Venture Crew,” which is a scout group for teens with a focus on Native American principles.



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