Old Irish Goats deployed to protect Dublin hills from wildfires

DUBLIN, Sept 30 (Reuters) - An ancient breed of Irish goat has been deployed to protect the hills around one of Dublin's most affluent suburbs from gorse wildfires.

Old Irish Goats - a bearded breed that has dwindled to near extinction - love to eat the vegetation and the local council hopes grazing by a herd of 25 will leave the north Dublin suburb of Howth less prone to natural wildfires.

Conservationists also hope the deployment will contribute to the survival of the small stocky breed of goat, which arrived in Ireland about 5,000 years ago.

"It's the old Irish ladies that have a job to do here and they're well able to do it," herder Melissa Jeuken, who answered one of Ireland's more unique job opportunities, said of her "hard working crew" of 25 nanny goats and kids.

The project aims to instil "key conservation grazing principles to tackle fire prevention and habitat management," while helping to ensure the breed's survival, she said.

Firefighters were deployed to deal with a number of gorse fires in the area this summer.

Conservationists feared the Old Irish Goat - which numbered around 250,000 in the early 1900s - was extinct until some were found scattered on the western mountains of Mulranney, their identity confirmed by DNA sampling at Trinity College Dublin.

Padraig Browne, whose Old Irish Goat Society set up a five-acre sanctuary in Mulranney from which the Howth goats were chosen, said the heritage animals needed a lot of support for conservation and that the grazing project was an ideal solution.

Jeuken, who grew up in the west of Ireland and spent many years setting up her own goat herd, said her new herd - a "curious if reserved" bunch who wear GPS tracker boxes around their necks that ping if they stray - have settled in quickly to their new surroundings.

"Plenty of time, TLC and a few treats, you can't go too far wrong with that," Jeuken said, before bleating like a goat to call her crew to her.

Writing by Padraic Halpin; additional reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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