ANCIENT goat breeds native to Ireland and Britain are vanishing as ‘improved’ Swiss breeds replace them.
Indigenous ‘Old Goat’ populations were once ubiquitous across Ireland and Britain but are now under constant threat of extinction.
That’s according to a new investigation into the DNA make-up of Irish herds conducted by Trinity College Research.
It compared the DNA of living goats to dead specimens and found that genetic diversity among Irish goats is now at its lowest ever point in history.
The landmark DNA study revealed that species of goats such as those found in certain areas of Mayo are nearly all gone – despite once being the only breed in Ireland.
The Old Irish Goat is now completely extinct in domestic form and only exists as a feral animal.
Thanks to intensive selective breeding over the last 200 years and high extinction rates due to their feral lifestyle, the last of Ireland’s native goats may soon die out.
The study highlighted one endangered feral herd of goats living in Mulranny, Co Mayo, as a unique population in desperate need of protection.
Mulranny goats showed a genetic similarity to extinct ‘Old Goat’ populations that lived on the Isle of Skye in the 1800s.
They can therefore be considered among the last remaining ‘Old Irish’ goats in Ireland.
Dr Valeria Mattiangeli, who co-authored the study, said: “This highlights the impact that transportation and mass importation of continental breeds has had on Ireland’s goat populations, and underlines how selective breeding for agricultural purposes can impact the genetic diversity of animals.
“Retaining this diversity as an option for future breeding is very important, but some of these populations are being pushed to extinction.”
Seán Carolan of the Old Irish Goat Society said he hoped the study would raise awareness to the plight of indigenous Irish goats.
“We hope this study will play a key role in saving what was and still is a diminutive creature that is both resilient and charismatic and that represents our cultural and pastoral history,” he said.