By Tony Orman

Tahr are at risk in their native Asia, and in NZ from Eugenie Sage’s extermination program.

Reports of DOC and Minister Eugenie Sage turning their killing program from tahr to deer suggests the extermination edict is paramount in government polices, says a hunting and environmental advocacy.

Laurie Collins, spokesman for the Sporting Hunters Outdoor Trust, has backed the call by NZ Deerstalkers Association CEO Gwyn Thurlow who says a “science backed” approach is needed in managing wild big game herds.

“Unfortunately Minister Sage and DOC have worked on false ideological grounds rather than science and evolution history,” says Laurie Collins. Over decades the Forest and Bird Society and the Department of Conservation have claimed New Zealand’s vegetation evolved under no mammalian browsing. However, critics have said “mammalian browsing” obscures the reality of millions of years of strong avian browsing, i.e. birds notably moa.

Deer are next. (John Royle photo)

In the 1920s and 1930s, influential botanist Leonard Cockayne also claimed that apart from certain species of moa “there were no grazing or browsing animals …. and the giant birds would chiefly live in the open.”

Conservation Minister Sage had complained deer “are now eating plant species that were previously numerous.” 

Ignorant of the historical reality

Moa browsing

But Laurie Collins said the Minister was either ignorant or deliberately ignoring ecological history. “NZ’s vegetation evolved over millions of years under robust browsing pressure from vegetarian birds such as moa, takahe, pigeon (kereru), kakapo and others. Eminent ecologist the late Dr Graeme Caughley estimated several million moa existed in various sub-species that ranged from alpine tops to lowlands. “NZ’s vegetation is strongly adapted to browsing,” he said.

The composition of plant species was undoubtedly different in “Moa times” from when the first European settlers came to New Zealand. Palatable species diminish, unpalatable species naturally increase in numbers under browsing, whether it be moa and other vegetarian birds or other browsers such as deer and possums.

Credible science needed

Hunters want credible “science-based” management, not killing based on ideology such as “an anti-introduced wild animal phobia” that Dr William Graf observed of departments in the late 1950s upon visiting NZ to investigate the “deer problem,” he said. 

One has to whether Minister Sage would have tried to exterminate moa because palatable plant species decreased under the browsing.