Aliens on the Great Orme by Eve Parry

Mynydd Llandudno, known in English as "The Great Orme", is a hilly peninsular which juts out into the Irish Sea. The Great Orme guards the entrance to the Bay of Llandudno, a popular seaside resort in North West Wales. The name "Orme" is said to be derived from a Norse word "Heva Horma" meaning Serpent, and indeed, the Viking invaders approaching through the mist may well have imagined it to be a sea monster.

This small mountain, some 679 feet in height, contains many rare plants and butterflies. Most of the flora and fauna is indigenous but some has been introduced. In the latter category, there can be found a fascinating animal, Capra Markhor, whose ancestors once roamed the mountains of Northern India.

The first intimation of these creatures is the rank odour. It is strong, musty and compelling. Sometimes they can be found wandering the wooded hillside. There is a flash of white in the undergrowth and a head slowly rises from behind a bramble bush. The eyes regard one with intelligence. The mouth grins wickedly and two enormous horns curve backwards, almost touching the nape of his neck. His horns are crenellated with large ridges unevenly spaced along their length. A shaggy fringe covers his forehead and his beard grows long. Soon others of his kind can be seen around him in the undergrowth, and it becomes apparent that there are perhaps as many as twenty Kashmiri billy goats browsing on juicy blackberries.

At this season of high summer it is an all male club. The entire herd is about 90 strong, including other full grown billies, young billies, nannies and kids. For most of the year the nannies wander on the opposite side of the mountain with the previous year's young, whilst the mature and immature billies roam in several groups away from the females. They will not mix until the autumn rut, at which time the nannies will be attracted by the odour exuded from behind the horns of the large males. When this is mixed with the scent of urine, with which the billies anoint themselves, the nannies in season find it hard to resist the heady perfume. At this point there is much aggressive display. Horns clash and heads are thrown back with lips curled to display strong yellow teeth.

The goats tend to mate around October and the kids are sometimes born as early as February. At parturition, the pregnant nannies seek solitude to drop their kids, often on some inaccessible ledge. Quite soon after birth, the nannies leave their kids and wander off to feed, returning regularly to suckle them. The kids are generally quite safe at these times. Unfortunately, interference of the human kind is their chief danger. Passers-by, no doubt well meaning, frequently pick up the kids thinking them to be abandoned. When this happens, there is virtually no chance of the nannies accepting back their human smelling kids and, even if taken into care by the RSPB, they are difficult to rear and more often than not do not survive. Therefore, unless a very young kid is in danger from traffic or obviously injured, it should be left alone. After two or three weeks, the nannies with the kids will rejoin the herd.

The origin of the Great Orme goats, and the story of their arrival in Britain, is interesting. In the early part of the nineteenth century, Squire Christopher Tower, from Brentwood in Essex, discovered in France a large herd of goats that had recently been imported from Kashmir. The idea was to create a profitable woollen industry. Squire Tower decided to purchase two of these goats, and took them to Weald Park in Brentwood. The goats flourished and soon produced kids, from which the Squire was, eventually, able to manufacture a cashmere shawl. George IV was highly impressed by this article and was happy to accept a pair of goats presented to him by Squire Tower.

This was the start of the Windsor herd, which increased rapidly, and in the reign of Queen Victoria, cashmere shawls became extremely fashionable. It is believed that Queen Victoria was presented with goats by the Shah of Persia and these were probably added to the existing herd.

Later in the century, Major General Sir Savage Mostyn acquired two of the Windsor goats and placed them in the grounds of Gloddaeth Hall, his ancestral home, which is situated a short distance from Llandudno. However, they seem to have been unsuitable as park animals and were later transferred to the Great Orme, where they still roam freely.

Attempts have been made in the past few years to cull the goats, and several were removed to the Island of Flatholm in the Bristol Channel. However, this was very unpopular with the people who inhabit the Orme, and when it was suggested that some of the goats might be killed or neutered, there was a great uproar. Letters were sent to the press, petitions were signed and there was grave danger of a riot if these extreme measures had gone ahead.

Happily these plans were eventually abandoned, the Great Orme goats, unaware of what might have been their fate, continue to wander placidly over the old sheep walks, happy in their environment and giving pleasure to tourists and residents alike. Long may they continue to do so.

This is an abbreviated version of the booklet, Aliens on the Great Orme, which is available from Eve Parry at 3, Cromlech Road, Llandudno, North Wales, U.K. LL30 2JW. The price in the UK is £2.75, which includes postage & packing. Outside the UK the price is £3.00 ($6.00), which includes postage & packing. Payment can be made in sterling or US dollars, either by cheque or by bank draft.