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History and biology


 

When were feral goats introduced to Australia?

Feral goats at Bourke, source G Saunders
Goats (Capra hircus) were among the first livestock introduced to Australia by Europeans. They arrived with the first fleet in 1788 and provided milk, meat and hair. They were also introduced to provide an emergency food for sea voyages and early explorers. Releasing (or liberating) goats onto islands as a source of food for shipwrecked or transient mariners was a naval tradition, which resulted in many islands now containing feral goat populations. Goats were taken to islands (such as Philip Island) in the early 1800s, and were abundant in Tasmania in 1822. They were imported into South Australia in 1837, and were taken to Flinders Ranges in the 1840s. In an attempt to establish an angora and cashmere fibre industry, many were introduced to Australia between 1860s and 1900. Domestic goats soon became feral when they escaped, were released or abandoned. Others were liberated into the wild by Acclimatisation Societies. Today, feral goats inhabit all States and Territories and about 28% of the country. The most widespread populations occur in South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. The Northern Territory, Tasmania and the ACT have restricted populations only.

What we know about feral goat biology

Feral goats at water, source R Henzell

Feral goats are generalist herbivores that have a varied diet. They can withstand prolonged periods of drought - but prefer to inhabit areas where a regular supply of dirnking water is available. During dry periods, they utilise moisture from the leaves, twigs, bark, branches, fruit, roots, grasses and new shoots of plants. They can often eat vegetation that is generally unpalatable or avoided by livestock, and are often seen high in trees browsing leaves during drought weather. Feral goats are social animals and usually live in herds. Herd size can vary from a few animals to several hundred, and is largely regulated by daily movement, breeding, seasonal conditions and dependency on local food and water resources. Large mixed-aged groups are common. Their homerange can be as small as 1 sqaure kilometre, and much larger (up to 600 square km) when food and water are scarce. In semi-arid and arid regions, their homerange is determined by access to suitable water. Females become sexually mature in their first year,  and will leave herds when about to give birth. They can have two litters a year, and can conceive while lactating. Twins and triplets are commonly born. This means that populations can increase quickly when conditions are favourable. They can carry many parasites, some of which can adversely affect domestic livestock, such as sheep.

For more information

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