San Clemente Island goats alive and well on mainland Kenwood
“I never thought of myself as a goat person,” said Carole Coates as she stood on her Kenwood farm looking affectionately at, well, goats.
But these just aren’t any goats.
Coates is one of a few owners and breeders across the country who are working to increase the population of endangered San Clemente Island goats, of which there are only 400 in existence.
Owners like Coates are trying to preserve the genetic line of these unusual and unique goats, as well as increase their geographical distribution.
“We’re trying to help bring back this conservation species,” said Coates, who has four San Clemente Island goats, and one other goat, known as a Catalina Island goat.
Coates was drawn to the San Clemente Island goats in part because of her love for California history. She is the author of a book on Catalina Island pottery and tile, and runs a website, www.potteryhound.com, selling vintage California antiques.
“I like all things California,” said Coates, “When I get into something, I really get into it.” With her son Jackson, Coates is also developing another website, this one for the goats and called, of course, Coates’ Goats (www.coatesgoats.com). There you can see photos and video of her eight month old buckling, Ramses.
Locally, Coates said there is another breeder in Lake County, and another in Marin County.
San Clemente Island goats are fine-boned, slightly taller than the dwarf goat breeds, and have gentle dispositions. Most show a black and brown “buckskin” pattern. Both the males and females have horns, with the horns of a buck twisting out and spreading over three feet wide.
The goats have a rich history. The breed once occupied San Clemente Island, a 57-square-mile island located 68 miles west off the coast of San Diego. For many years, the story was that Spanish explorers dropped off the goats as a food source for future sailors. Further research found that this was incorrect, and it was determined that goats were first introduced from a population imported from Santa Catalina Island in 1875. But the exact origin of the breed is still unknown, and studies are ongoing to try and solve this genetic mystery.
The U.S. Navy took over San Clemente Island in 1934. By the 1970s, the goat population had reached over 15,000, and, not surprisingly, were destroying the native plants and damaging the ecology.
It was decided that the goats were not a heritage breed worth saving, so an extermination program began, which reduced the goat population to about 4,000. In the 1980s, the Navy was going to start another effort to kill the goats, but the Fund for Animals stepped in to rescue the goats. 4,000 to 6,000 San Clemente Island goats were trapped and brought over to the mainland U.S., and adopted out to farms in a few states.
With the help of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, some of the breeding stock was saved, and efforts began to save the genetic heritage of the San Clemente Island goats.
DNA testing of San Clemente Island goats has been ongoing to find out more genetic information, with findings indicating that their make-up is genetically distinct from other breeds.
There is a San Clemente Island Goat Association, www.scigoats.org, which works toward increasing the popularity of the animals, and has lots of information about how to raise and breed your own.
“It’s important not to lose their genetic diversity,” said Coates. “They’re just beautiful creatures.”
For those who are interested in other heritage breeds, go to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy at www.albc-usa.org. They are a non-profit organization working to protect over 150 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction, including cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, and more.
Photo by Alec Peters
Fernando is a two-year-old San Clemente Island goat (buck) that his owner, Carole Coates, is breeding to help save this genetically distinct line of goats.