Thursday, April 25, 2024

Pest numbers on the rise

Neal Wallace
A recent aerial cull of 80 feral deer from an Otago farm indicates a burgeoning game animal and feral pest problem. The biggest increase appears to be in feral deer, due to a collapse of venison prices and restricted hunter access, and wallabies, where the Government last year allocated $27.4 million over four years to eradicate the pest.
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A recent aerial cull of 80 feral deer from an Otago farm indicates a burgeoning game animal and feral pest problem.

The biggest increase appears to be in feral deer, due to a collapse of venison prices and restricted hunter access, and wallabies, where the Government last year allocated $27.4 million over four years to eradicate the pest.

The New Zealand Deerstalkers Association (NZDA) and the Game Animal Council (GAC), which encourages the sustainable management of deer, tahr and chamois, say numbers are not yet out of control but are calling for landowners to improve hunting access and for changes to the management of feral deer herds.

A switch is needed to the historic understanding that hunters avoid shooting hinds to make them the primary target to stem the population growth, the two bodies say.

NZDA chief executive Gwyn Thurlow says the feral deer population is currently increasing by between 10-12% a year.

“This is coming during an unusual scenario where lots of farms are inaccessible as farmers have locked the gate and are managing their own herds and all of a sudden they have built up,” Thurlow said.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is also restricting hunting access to some areas, which is enabling population growth.

GAC manager Tim Gale agrees that land needs to be opened to hunters, adding that the council is coordinating control operations in hotspots such as the Raukumara Ranges, Lake Sumner and parts of Fiordland.

Federated Farmers High Country chair Rob Stokes described deer numbers throughout much of the South Island as “erupting”, due in part to the absence of aerial pressure from feral venison recovery.

“Until the freezers reopen and they start trading game meat again, it is not viable,” Stokes said.

Some farmers have used aerial culling and Stokes fears growing feral deer numbers could compromise efforts to control bovine TB.

Department of Conservation (DOC) project leader for biodiversity threats Dave Carlton says monitoring shows significant increases in the number of pests and game animals across all conservation land in the past eight years.

Tahr numbers have reduced in the past three years.

“This is to bring numbers back in line with the statutory Himalayan Tahr Control Plan 1993 and has focused on removing these animals from National Parks and from outside their gazetted range as a priority,” Carlton said.

DOC also monitors pig numbers but data shows no discernible trend.

LINZ land and property manager James Holborow says visits to pastoral leases and conversations with leaseholders, reveals pest numbers have increased.

“There has been an increase in feral pigs and deer, red and fallow, in Marlborough, Canterbury, Otago, and Southland,” Holborow said,

“The numbers vary from property to property, however, for some properties deer numbers have been so high they have installed deer fencing to protect high-value winter feed crops.

“Rabbits and hares have increased in Central Otago and the Mackenzie Basin and wallabies are also expanding into these areas,” he said.

Holborow says covid-19 lockdowns interrupted pest control efforts, rabbit haemorrhagic disease is reducing in effectiveness, the price of wild venison has fallen and there is the ongoing challenge of some neighbours not undertaking pest control.

Leaseholders are required to control pests as part of the lease and Holborow says many are keeping numbers down or are involved with regional pest control programmes.

There is a fear the pest explosion could lead to more poaching and a police spokesperson warns landowners should contact police if they come across illegal hunters.

Poaching carries a maximum sentence of two year’s imprisonment and a $100,000 fine and could result in the seizure of hunting related items including firearms, knives, dogs, GPS units and vehicles.

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