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New Zealand’s Plan to Cull Tahr Threatens World Class Hunting Opportunities

Travel restrictions, hunt cancellations, and the loss of revenue in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic already have New Zealand’s proud hunting industry on the ropes. Now, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) is on the verge of delivering a knockout punch.

What has been labeled as a cull of the population is really an eradication in disguise. If the plan is implemented, it will end tahr hunting in New Zealand as we know it while also taking down jobs and livelihoods. The proposal would have such devastating consequences that many people have labeled it “Tahrmageddon.”

A petition to halt the proposed cull and review the tahr Control Plan has garnered more than 45,000 signatories in just over a week. It has also drawn strong pushback from the New Zealand Tahr Foundation (NZTF), the New Zealand First political party, and the hunting community from around the world.

Safari Club International has also expressed grave concern with the DOC’s operational plan for controlling tahr populations. SCI objects to this plan for four reasons. First, unlike in years past, the DOC failed to consult with stakeholders regarding the plan. Second, the considerable increase in search and control and the targeting of bulls is scientifically unsupported. Third, the plan will essentially eradicate the world’s strongest tahr population, contributing significantly to the potential extinction risk of this species. Finally, and critically, the plan will have a devastating impact on rural economies, livelihoods, and the hunting industry.

It is quite troubling that the plan’s development included very little input or consultation from the NZTF, the hunting industry, or other stakeholders with a vested interest in tahr management. Appropriate consultation existed previously between the NZTF, the hunting industry, and the DOC. This plan threatens to effectively undo the trust and understanding that these stakeholders and the DOC have developed over the years. These stakeholders were, and are again, willing to collaboratively produce a sound and fair operational plan based on the best available data.

Furthermore, the plan relies on outdated population estimates. Without any scientific basis, it will devastate the tahr populations for many years to come. Instead, the plan calls for the removal of more than 4,000 nannies and juveniles outside of National Parks while simultaneously culling over 3,000 animals inside parks, of which over half are expected to be bulls. This increase in control, and the lethal control of bulls, fails to account for past culling and is not based on updated population or sex-class estimates. It is irresponsible to greatly increase search and control time without updated data to ensure tahr are not completely eradicated from the National Parks.

The National Parks are the heart of the tahr’s range in New Zealand. Thus, carrying out this plan would drive tahr populations to at or near zero density, potentially putting the long-term sustainability of the species in peril. New Zealand is home to the stronghold of tahr remaining in the world. Wild tahr populations in their native range are small and believed to be declining. If these animals are eradicated from New Zealand, the global population of this species will be pushed to the brink of extinction. Though not technically a native species in New Zealand, the future existence of these magnificent creatures in the wild may very well depend on New Zealand’s ability to manage its population sustainably. Undertaking the plan without sufficient understanding of current population structures is not sustainable. It contributes to the potential global extinction of tahr.

Last, the culling of bulls would have a devastating impact on tahr hunting opportunities, which is of great concern to the hunting community worldwide. New Zealand is home to the only huntable herd of tahr outside of the Himalayas, making them a very marketable resource of global importance. A trophy tahr hunt can cost between 25 to 30 thousand US dollars each, which means that expanded hunting opportunities could be a viable option for managing their numbers and generating much needed economic activity. On the other hand, the decimation of the tahr population will cause severe financial harm to New Zealand’s hunting industry, including, but not limited to, accommodation providers, helicopter operators, professional hunting guides, and safari and tourism operators. The plan fails to recognize the significant contribution of tahr hunting and viewing to New Zealand’s economy.

Tahr hunting generates an estimated $12 million annually, most of which stems from international tourists, and the hunting industry buoys the economy in rural parts of the country.

Native to high altitude regions of Asian, Himalayan tahr were first introduced to the South Island more than 115 years ago. Tahr populations have been thriving for more than a century thanks to the highly suitable habitat found in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Tahr were protected until 1937 when the government authorized hunting to manage the population. By the 1970s a commercial market for tahr meat was established, but through the 1980s commercial harvest had decimated tahr to alarmingly low levels before the government outlawed commercial harvest and began developing a management plan for the species.

New Zealand’s Himalayan Tahr Control Plan was published in 1993. It was based on the best available science at the time and sought to manage the ecological impact of tahr while also providing abundant recreational hunting opportunities. The 1993 plan conservatively set a goal of 10,000 tahr as an acceptable maximum population level, but that number was considered to be flexible upon further research and review.

However, standards and metrics laid out in the plan were not held up to by the DOC, a 5-year review of population goals did not take place, nor did adequate research on tahr numbers and their impact on native vegetation. Instead, tahr have been managed by political whims, which has been a source of constant conflict amongst stakeholders, and no valid research on the ecological impact of tahr in New Zealand has been conducted since 1993.

Aerial surveys conducted in 2018 indicated that New Zealand’s tahr population was north of 35,000, and thus, the DOC put together a plan to cull the population back down near 10,000. Due to political pressure and pushback from the hunting community, a compromise was reached to focus culling efforts on nannies and kids while leaving prized bulls to be harvested by hunters.

As part of the culling program, an estimated 18,000 tahr have been shot over the last two years, and a population explosion or ecological collapse is not imminent. Instead of proceeding with another massive population reduction, the 27-year-old tahr management plan should be revised with updated ecological and economic data. The revised plan should also include input from all stakeholders with a vested interest in tahr management, including the hunting community.

Herd numbers need to be kept in check, and for decades the hunting community has played a role in doing so. All stakeholders must accept that soundly protecting New Zealand’s ecological balance should be a priority, as the entirety of the hunting industry relies on a healthy ecosystem. Nobody understands the need for healthy ecosystems as well as the hunting community. Science based management is necessary to determine how many tahr New Zealand’s mountain ranges can hold in balance with ecological priorities and hunting opportunities. SCI supports the DOC’s efforts to manage tahr, but with an emphasis that the species is managed, not eradicated. A revised management plan should be driven by the best available science with the support and participation of the hunting community.

Let the Minister of Conservation and DOC know that you don’t want to see New Zealand’s tahr population decimated by adding your name to the petition today!

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