In 2017 OSPRI contracted Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research to carry out a TB deer survey over a three-year period in the southern Kaimanawa Range as part of helping confirm TB freedom in this area. The survey involved helicopter shooting of deer, with a target of 150 to be taken each year (450 total).
The helicopter shooting was carried out in the Remote Experience Zone (REZ) as this area doesn’t receive high hunting pressure because of the difficult access. However, for more accessible survey areas outside the REZ such as the Waipakihi Valley and Desert Road access points, an incentivised recreational hunter sampling regime was used whereby hunters who could meet the necessary data requirements received a payment of $150 per sample.
The helicopter shooting targeted older hinds where possible and poor-quality older stags with Manaaki Whenua supplying photos of any cull stags taken. Younger stags, especially those with trophy potential were left for the recreational hunter. Manaaki Whenua also collected data on animal condition and breeding status, removed jaws and supplied this information to the Sika Foundation for our data collection programme – a valuable tool for better understanding the herd.
The project was completed in early January 2020 with a total of 473 samples taken – 325 shot from helicopter and 148 shot by recreational hunters (see map). This is the largest and most comprehensive dataset for the Sika herd analysed from a specific location since the 1990’s.
While no TB was found in any sample, the large proportion of barren hinds and deer in average to poor condition taken out of the survey area indicates the habitat in this part of the Kaimanawa Forest Park (particularly the REZ) is struggling under current deer densities. Removing hinds is the best way to reduce deer densities to allow habitat recovery and improve deer condition – fewer, but better more productive animals.
The Sika Foundation team would like to acknowledge OSPRI for its willingness to work with the Foundation on this project. We will now look at ways to continue game animal management in this area, so the gains made over the past three years are built on.
Positive environmental outcomes and a healthier Sika herd for recreational hunters to utilise are a win – win for both conservation and hunting.