Tahr Classified as “Valued Introduced Species” but Culling Still Underway as Management Consultation Begins

After being ordered by the New Zealand High Court to seek consultation with the hunting community, the Department of Conservation (DOC) has opened the consultation process having already begun to cull tahr by aerial gunning throughout the tahr feral range, including within two National Parks in New Zealand. Though these culling operations are limited in scope compared to DOC’s initial plans thanks to the court order, thousands of tahr are still being shot and left in the mountains to rot.

The DOC is working to cull the tahr population from an estimated 30,000 strong down to the 10,000-number outlined in the 1993 control plan. According to the New Zealand Professional Hunting Guides Association, a herd population reduced to 10,000 is not enough animals to support the current amount of hunting from local and international hunters and will lead to the ultimate demise of the herd as both a recreational and commercial resource, resulting in the loss of huge financial resources that tahr generate for the New Zealand economy.

As aerial gunning operations continue to cull tahr, the consultation process began with representatives from SCI’s New Zealand Chapter, the NZ Tahr Foundation, and the Game Animal Council (GAC) attending a consultation meeting hosted by DOC. A presentation given on behalf of SCI NZ was well received by fellow hunting stakeholders. The consultation process also includes the submission of written comments, and the SCI NZ chapter provided well thought out technical advice based on experience in operational, scientific, and social applications of proposed tahr management.

The DOC presented an updated plan during the consultation meeting, but unfortunately, their plan contained some controversial culling practices, lacked target monitoring to prevent over culling and with no methods to measure actual management outcomes achieved from culling, which raises concerns with the hunting community and has created doubts about the level of consideration DOC may have for the consultation process moving forward.

Although there are certain aspects of the DOC’s proposed tahr management practices to be alarmed about, the NZ hunting community recently commended the DOC for their transparency in reporting the siting’s of Bull Tahr in an effort to help hunters plan their hunts. The finalized Tahr Control Operational Plan for 2020/2021 is expected to be released later this month.

In other positive news, the DOC’s 2020 Biodiversity Strategy classifies tahr, chamois, wild pigs, and all species of deer as “valued introduced species,” a development supported by the GAC. “Valued introduced species like deer, tahr, chamois and wild pigs have been here for well over a hundred years and are extremely important to hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders,” says GAC General Manager Tim Gale. “Valued introduced species also provide New Zealanders with critical mental health and wellbeing benefits and are important avenues for conservation efforts undertaken by hunting and fishing organizations and community groups.”

New Zealand’s hunting community is also proudly participating in DOC’s Conservation Week by highlighting conservation initiatives and community led volunteer work done by hunters through a “Hunters for Conservation” social media campaign.  The campaign is currently showcasing the great work being done by organizations like the Central North Island Sika Foundation,  Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, and the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association.

Due to the resurgence of Covid-19 in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, the Election planned for September 19 has now been postponed for eight weeks and will now take place on October 17. 

“This is a significant development, particularly for those with a vested interest in the management of New Zealand’s valued introduced species, because the current government leaders,  under the direction of the Minister of Conservation – Ms. Eugenie Sage, have let their very strong personal views shape political positions, particularly in respect to Tahr,” said Mike Knowles – President of SCI’s New Zealand Chapter.

 “Minister Sage has a belief that all Tahr in New Zealand should be exterminated, and she has direct control over the direction that the Department of Conservation shall take on any issue.  It is known that the staff of the Department are not necessarily in favor of her perceived decisions, but as employees of the Department, unfortunately they have little choice. The delayed General Election will give opportunities for the NZ hunting fraternity to help shape the future direction that a new Government may take.  Policies that have been so far promoted certainly take differing views on the need for proper management of the animals living in Department of Conservation controlled land. We all look forward to the Election and, hopefully, a positive change for the better.”

Knowles also added that he is extremely proud of the efforts of the NZ Executive team fighting the Tahr cull, putting in countless “unpaid” hours writing submissions, and presenting at the consultation process. He also thanked SCI for the support and advice they had given the NZ Chapter on the tahr issue, which was highly appreciated.

SCI-NZ will continue to lead the way with other critical stakeholders defending the rights of all New Zealand hunters and pushing to the DOC to manage game animals sustainably.

Updates regarding the consultation process and final control plan will be made available as they develop.

(Photo Courtesy of Lake Hawea Hunting Safaris)

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