Saturday 19 January 2013

Feral Goats

Feral goats in the Wicklow Hills
Driving home from Fort William a couple of years ago I came across what I thought was a small herd of  feral goats at the roadside between Glenuig and Salen.Over the years I've encountered feral goats from the Cheviot Hills to Loch Lomond side and the Isle of Rum they look like Ibex with large horns and shaggy coats.

 I have been trying to find out how;  if these were originally domesticated goats they reverted to "wild type". I have searched the web to no avail. Am I missing something here that is so obvious no one needs to write about it?  Or has no one bothered to suggest a hypothesis? There is a third possibility; these goats are the direct descendants of primitive goats that belonged to Neolithic people and have been wandering about Britain little changed ever since?

He's not just ugly he stinks
 Hypothesis: If I turned my female goats out on to the hill with a buck goat and just abandoned them. Then the harsh environment would act on their offspring to select a smaller, hardier, large horned, long coated, better adapted "wild type" goat in relatively few generations.

There is one short paper by people at the Roslin Institute with an assertion that this would happen in about ten years but I can't find any other references.

Don't worry I'm not going to test this by turning my goats loose.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, and an interesting hypothesis too. Surely there must be some research out there on this? If not then the subject is ripe for it.

Like your blog by the way. It's my favourite part of the country.


Tom Bryson said...

I have googled as many word combinations as possible on this and have not come up with any genuine research on the topic. As you suggest there is possibly a PhD in this for someone.

littlegrebe said...

I view Wikepedia with scepticism, but in this case their report of a hypothesis that these are the descendents of domesticated goats left after the highland clearances actually chimes with your own hypothesis about the alternative future of your own goats.

Presumably it would be possible to compare dna from present domesticated goats with these feral goats, but I don't know how many generations it would take for generations to diversify so that goats from the era of the clearances would be demonstratively different from that of ancient breeds.

Tom Bryson said...

As I mentioned in the post I did find a comment in a paper by Roslin Institute scientists that the evolution from domesticated type to wild type took only ten years. There are examples of very rapid evolutionary change in species such as Galapagos finches. Its how this happens that I am interested in. Is it a combination of goat fecundity, selection pressure from a harsh environment, perhaps a degree of inbreeding. As you suggest a comparison of mitochondrial DNA from both types might well show sufficient difference to call them separate species.

Michael said...

30 years ago when I was a geology student I saw wild goats near Bunessan on the Isle of Mull.I'm sure the story at the time was that they were descended from goats that swam ashore from wrecks of the Spanish Armada. I don't know if it was true but it made it more exciting when I stumbled across a group of them in the mist.

Tom Bryson said...

G. K. Whitehead in "The Wild Goats of Great Britain and Ireland" 1972 has a map showing feral goats at eight sites on Mull but doesn't mention the Spanish Armada as their origin. However, he does have a photograph of white goats on the Isle of Cara (East of Islay) in 1939. These were believed to be descendants of goats carried by wrecked galleons. Although these bore little resemblance to contemporary Spanish breeds Mackenzie suggests they could have come from the Netherlands which were part of the Spanish empire at the time, or they could have been carried on Viking longboats.

Anonymous said...

There are also feral goats just like these in the Rhinog Hills of North Wales.


Tom Bryson said...

I saw them some years ago on the Roman Steps above Cwm Bychan, I've also come across white wild goats on the N. Ridge of Tryfan.