The Tahr Foundation, which represents hunters, has sought a High Court injunction to stop the Conservation Department doing a fresh cull of the animals in the coming year. It estimates 18,000 have been killed in the last three years.
Foundation chairman Snow Hewetson says DOC’s new Tahr Control Operational Plan for the coming year triples to nearly 400 hours the helicopter flight time for tahr control compared to other years, a sign it wants to significantly reduce numbers.
The plan also targets mature bulls and has a stated goal of reducing tahr numbers in national parks towards zero density but Hewetson says hunters have not been consulted, hence the application for an injunction, which will be heard on July 8.
Previous culls have targeted female and juvenile animals and Hewetson estimates there might be only 5000 females left.
Further culling pressure could make survival of the species questionable.
“It is close to tipping point as a hunting industry and recreational hunting resource.”
From 2016 to 2018 DOC estimated the herd on public conservation land numbered about 35,000. Its plan to cull 25,000 was resisted by hunters.
The plan was revised to an agreed cull of 10,000 with hunters used to help reduce numbers.
A helicopter crash delayed the initial cull but Hewetson estimates 4000 were killed in 2018 and 2000 late last year. DOC estimates 11,000 to 12,000 were killed from May to November last year.
The Himalayan Tahr Control Plan and Wild Animal Control Act aim to keep the population below 10,000.
Tahr were released in New Zealand in 1904 and it is one of few herds in the world that can be hunted in the wild.
While acknowledging tahr are an introduced animal, Hewetson says their arrival predates the establishment of national parks. Trout is also an introduced species but has a form of protection as it is managed by Fish and Game.
If DOC eradicates tahr Hewetson fears other introduced species such as wapiti and deer could be the next targets.
He estimates tahr hunting generates about $17 million from international and domestic hunters with each bull worth $14,000 to a trophy hunter.
He knows of a West Coast helicopter company that each winter ferries 1000 hunters into the mountains to chase tahr.
“It is high-income, low-impact tourism.
“Those who come here spend a lot of money but because they live in remote lodges and huts you don’t see them.”
Deerstalkers Association chief executive Gwyn Thurlow says DOC is ignoring the role of hunters in managing the species.
“The present proposal ignores the hunting sector and the drive for extermination will alienate tens of thousands of New Zealanders.”
Forest and Bird is also seeking a High Court declaratory judgment that the Tahr Control Operational Plan does not comply with the Himalayan Thar Control Plan, the Wild Animal Control Act and the National Parks Act.
It says tahr damage fragile alpine ecosystems and it wants the population to be kept under 10,000 with none in national parks.
DOC intends defending both proceedings but given the pending court action was reluctant to comment.
Operations director Ben Reddiex said having finalised and approved its operational plan, implementation is subject to operational planning, weather conditions and the legal proceedings.
The plan focuses on preventing tahr increasing their geographical range, controlling all tahr in Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland Tai Poutini National Parks to the lowest practicable densities and controlling high densities of female and juvenile tahr across the feral range to reduce their impact and population spread.