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Hermaphroditic Gazan Goat Gives Up the Ghost

goat with male parts and udders from NPR blog goats and soda

Readers of the NPR blog goats and soda awaited the fate of a special goat on Sunday, April 12, 2015. Goat traders and business partners Abdel Rahman and Jaser Abu Said had imported the goat from Israel into Gaza, along with five other goats, something they do every few weeks to sell the goats for meat. Reporter Emily Harris first introduced us to this goat. But what made this goat so special was that while it had “visible male sex organs,” it also had udders. Working udders that gave milk. According to its owners, Harris, and the Gazan government, this little goat was a hermaphrodite.

Dr. Zakharia Kafarna, director of veterinary services for the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, wasn’t so sure, however, claiming that the male and female parts could have been due to a hormone disorder instead. Even so, Kafarna recommended that the goat be slaughtered, agreeing with an order that had come from the Gazan government to do the same thing. The kill order came after many Gazans started clamoring to buy the milk for its potential “curative properties.” As Harris states in her article, it’s almost a universal truth that natural oddities in animals tend to drive people to believe that those oddities are magical. In the case of the goat, “Gazans wanted… [the milk] to help fertility, boost virility,” and to “apply to eye diseases.”

But this sort of “black magic” is forbidden in Islam—“haram as Rahman calls it, stating that he would never sell the milk due to the potential harmful qualities of milk from a not-female, not-male goat. The police were not so confident, however, and ordered the goat killed, claiming that it’d been used to “violate the public health” and that it “may cause severe damage to civilians.” NPR’s Emily Harris probed, asking what kind of “severe damage.” The answer? Fooling Gazans. The government was afraid that rumors surrounding the supposed curative properties of the milk would fool some people into actually believing that the milk was… well… magical. And the government did not want anyone taking advantage of the gullibility of any overly trusting Gazans.

Though owners Rahman and Abu Said were angry about the order to have the goat slaughtered, death ultimately ended up being the animal’s fate, as Harris reported. But the slaughter wasn’t carried out by government representatives. Instead, a buyer willing to take and slaughter the goat immediately for meat paid Rahman and Abu Said about 400 Jordanian dinars, around the same for which they’d bought the goat. The milk had been taken and tested for both potential harmful and curative properties, but none of either were found. Both milk and meat were ultimately deemed safe to consume, albeit after the animal had already been slaughtered.

Hermaphroditic goats are not as rare as we might think. In fact, goats as well as pigs are subject to recessive traits that can lead to hermaphroditic animals. In the case of goats, breeding polled (naturally hornless) goats together results in a one in five chance that their offspring is born hermaphroditic. These animals are neither male nor female, but are intersex, often exhibiting both male and female sex organs and udders. The more you know!

Feature Photo Credit: NPR’s goats and soda

Michelina DelGizzi

Michelina DelGizzi, MS, MPH, is a writer and caseophile based in Boston and Lafayette, La.