Tharmaggedon in New Zealand? Not So Fast

Tharmaggedon in New Zealand? Not So Fast

Back in September, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) announced a plan to massively step up culling of Himalyan tahr in the Southern Alps, stating that the animals were damaging native grasses and plants. Introduced tahr are a popular game animal with tourist and resident hunters alike. Although the DOC’s plans touched off controversy, the hunting sector asked for concessions from the DOC to address their concerns in in October meetings, managing to reach a satisfactory agreement.

A September 20 DOC press release quoted Conservation Minister Eugnie Sage as saying, “Tahr numbers have reached damaging levels with an estimated population of 35,000 animals on public conservation land. That is more than three times the number of animals permitted by the long established Himalayan Tahr Control Plan.” Sage also stated her intention to meet with representatives from the hunting sector through the Tahr Liasion Group. “I am in discussion with some leaders of the hunting sector and will be re-engaging with them soon to discuss various concerns and gain a common understanding of the data. I also want to address some of the misinformation that’s been circulated. To be very clear there is no plan to eradicate tahr.”

The DOC proposed to cull some 10,000 animals on public land, and considered asking for an additional cull of some 7,500 animals from hunters and the private sector. This met with considerable pushback, with the New Zealand Tahr Foundation and others disputing the science behind such a large-scale cull.

In October New Zealand’s Game Animal Council (GAC) met with various members of the hunting sector that make up the Tahr Liasion Group (TLG), including the New Zealand Professional Hunting Guides Association (NZPHGA) and others. The group came up with a counterproposal to the DOC. The DOC ultimately agreed to a cull 6,000 animals with an additional 4,000 to be taken by other parties by late 2019.

In a press release, the GAC detailed the agreement as follows:

  1. A staged, adaptive approach entailing an initial reduction of 6,000 female tahr utilizing a combination of DOC culls, commercial meat recovery and Aerial Assisted Trophy Hunting (AATH) offsets. DOC will focus initially on National Parks and difficult areas of the West Coast. Ongoing consultation will efficiently coordinate these operations, ensuring use of the most appropriate approach in each location.
    No recognizable male tahr will be culled.
  2. Recreational hunters, hunting guides, AATH operators and tahr meat recovery will account for another 4000 tahr prior to Spring 2019.
  3. Progress against objectives will be reviewed regularly.
  4. Further scientific information will be gathered to inform future decisions on tahr management.

Outfitter Gerald Telford of Telford Fishing & Hunting served as NZPHGA’s representative to the Tahr Liasion Group (TLG). He detailed the situation in an email to The Hunting Report.

Writes Telford, “First off, there has been a Himalayan Tahr Control Plan in place since 1993. This is statutory document, the only one of its kind in relation to wild animals in this country. Key to the plan is that the TOTAL number of tahr within the 8 management units should not exceed 10,000 animals. No matter where the current political debate (and this is a political debate) takes us there should be 10,000 tahr still inhabiting public mountain areas when this operation reaches its end.

“Tahr are ‘contained’ within a feral range (natural geographical boundaries) and as such only exist in huntable numbers within that range. Any outfitter or guide offering tahr hunts in New Zealand does so within the feral range, which is roughly the middle section of the Southern Alps on the South Island between Christchurch and Wanaka.

“The BIG question is how many tahr are there now, how many need to be removed, and who should remove them. The 2018 operational plan goes active on the 18th of October, with the DOC aiming to remove 6000 Tahr between by mid-November. Culling will resume again in early February 2019. At this point the numbers will have been recorded and goals revisited to see that the desired outcome of 10,000 Tahr will have been culled by August 30th. If the target off 6,000 has been reached there remains 4,000 to cull by 30th August 2019. Then we start again with the new information and see what the 2019-2020 plan will entail. Come August 30th we may still have 20,000-25,000 tahr in the feral range.

“What will NOT happen during the culls is the deliberate targeting of recognizable bulls, so there will be plenty of trophy animals. Also, the bulk of the DoC/TLG culling will take place on public conservation lands. For the time being lease lands and private land is not a focus. Most of the foot hunting for tahr (unless a wilderness hunt) takes place on leasehold land or private land, and these hunting areas will be untouched.

“Operations that offer Aerial Assisted Trophy Hunting (AATH) hunt public lands, but they are heavily involved in the cull program and will be logging each animal killed. There should be minimal disruption. Yes, there will be fewer tahr in those areas. Estimates suggest as many as 17,500 will be culled by next hunting season. The ‘extra’ 7,500 animals will be the recreational harvest and 5,000 tahr that were culled in September and October before this plan went operational.

“It’s the job of the outfitters and guides to deliver on trophies for our clients, and at the same time avoid conflict with recreational hunters as we compete for a diminished resource. Outfitters will be able to find trophy animals, but hunters should discuss any concerns before their hunt.

“The management of tahr is a David and Goliath battle. For now we have won the battle, but there will be conflicts in the future. The tahr plan has been in place for 25 years, as has the TLG, but there has historically been little coordination or cooperation. Fortunately the GAC is gaining traction as a statutory hunting organization that advises the DOC minister, and the TLG has huge support from the private sector and hunters.”

Telford says that his immediate concern for protecting the future of tahr is funding of the GAC. He says that he would be happy to hear from any person or organization that has funds or ideas to support the council.