New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1997) 21(1): 81- 88

The foraging ecology of feral goats Capra hircus in the Mahoenui giant weta reserve, southern King Country, New Zealand

Research Article
D. C. Stronge 1,2
R. A. Fordham 1
E. O. Minot 1,*
  1. Department of Ecology, Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North, New Zealand
  2. Present address: Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 3016, Wanganui, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Feral goats (Capra hircus) were studied in the Mahoenui giant weta reserve, southern King Country, New Zealand, from March 1992 to February 1993. The reserve supports the main population of the undescribed Mahoenui giant weta (Deinacrida sp.). Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is the dominant woody browse plant in the reserve and provides protection, shelter and food for weta. The activities, foraging behaviour and diet of feral goats within the reserve were measured by direct observation and analysis of rumen contents. Measures of nutrient levels indicate that gorse is adequate for goat growth only during late spring/summer, and becomes a maintenance food at other times of the year. Feeding (grazing and browsing) was the dominant activity of adult feral goats in the reserve. Females spent more time feeding than males. Grazing and browsing changed seasonally for both sexes, with grazing generally decreasing from autumn to summer, and browsing increasing from summer to spring. In every season females spent more time grazing than males, but males browsed more than females. Greater use of browse by males may be an effect of the presence of females. Browsing of gorse by goats may not be an important influence on weta survival.