NZ Historical Articles

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An Interesting History

The history of wild animal control in New Zealand is a fascinating story

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An Interesting History

The History Of Wild Animal Control in New Zealand
As a part of my Lincoln University studies for a degree in Environmental Management, I undertook a study on the history of wild animal control in New Zealand, with a bias influenced by my involvement in the professional hunting industry. With the emphasis on the policy, technology and entrepreneurs in the industry, unravelling the history was incredibly fascinating and helped in understanding the history behind the current professional NZ hunting scene.

An Overview
1BThe history of wild animal control in New Zealand is a fascinating story. Along with government policy, technological changes played a big part in shaping how the industry evolved. From various introductions of big game animals, to the history of policy and legislation relating to their control, to political and technological reasons, or the emergence of new markets, these have all played their part.
“Since 1861, wild animals have been defined and their management prescribed under a variety of general and specific laws…” (1). From these early days, the underlying principles guiding wild animal control have moved from the goal of protection, to extermination, to a general policy of control. The first legislation in 1861 sought protection of wild animals, but by 1909 deer populations had come under scrutiny, and extensive ‘control shooting’ was authorized (2). Goats, alongside deer, were also becoming such a menace that landowners were paying bounties for any shot by private hunters. This was the start of an industry that would one day boom and play a big part in the history of New Zealand.
With the protection of deer being removed in 1930, a full-scale war began – the war against the big game animals of New Zealand. 1956 saw the introduction of the Noxious Animals Act and the New Zealand Forest Service was charged with the responsibility of controlling certain animals (3). The intensity of wild animal control operations clicked up a notch. The late 1950’s saw an offshore market emerge, hungry for New Zealand’s wild venison; with this, a scramble of men and machines headed for the hills. A turning point in the industry was the introduction of the helicopter as a shooting platform in the year 1963. But the early entrepreneurs struggled to make money due to a still developing market, techniques and processes. By the 1970’s the industry was in full swing though with an estimated 131,000 carcasses exported in 1971 (4). Goats, on the other hand, were still being hunted predominantly by man and dog (5).
The passing of the Deer Farming Regulation in 1969 introduced deer farming to New Zealand, and the number of deer farms grew rapidly from 850 in 1979, to 3,900 registered farms in 1988 (6). Live deer recovery peaked in 1979/1980, with the change in the market structure reducing profit (7). With the declining wild venison recovery, private hunters were disappearing, but new responsibilities within the New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS) kept department hunter numbers up. It was the end of an era, but the start of something new. April 1st 1987 saw the NZFS disbanded and the Department of Conservation formed. Rationale for deer control changed, and with the population now under control, DOC priorities turned to goats.
“Wild animal control, for the want of an all–encompassing description, had its origins in the decision to introduce exotic fauna to New Zealand” (8). When animals were first introduced into New Zealand to make the European settlers feel more at home and to provide food for shipwrecked mariners, the early settlers had no idea that these animals would change the face of New Zealand. Domestic goats (Capra hircus) were first liberated into New Zealand by Captain Cook in 1773 and 1777, the liberation being a result of the tradition of naval vessels to provide food for shipwrecked mariners. Having turned wild, today about 150 feral herds occupy roughly 16% (4.3 million ha) of mainland New Zealand and seven offshore islands (9). Feral pigs (Sus scrofa) share the same history, being released by Cook in 1773; now their range includes about 35% (9.3 million ha) of the country (10). Red deer (Cervus elaphus) soon followed. After two failed attempts, in 1851 and 1853, the first successful liberation of Red deer was in 1860. By 1967 a “…report by two officers of the Forest Service, Peter Lynn and Logan Harris, documented 220 separate and distinct liberations of Red deer, involving more than 820 animals”(11). Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) and Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) were released in 1904 and 1907 respectively, into New Zealand’s Southern Alps where they are both firmly established today. The liberation of goats, pigs, deer, tahr and chamois, would one day lead to an industry built around their control, and with it, the need for the professional hunter.

The Dawn of a New Era
“Since 1861, wild mammals have been defined and their management prescribed under a variety of general and specific laws…” (12). Amendments to the 1861 legislation followed in 1862, 1864 and 1865, as Logan states, “all catering to the spirit of the initial enactment”. By 1987, further legislation was deemed necessary, to encourage introductions and liberations of wild animals. It also provided for legal protection to impede poachers and to ensure unhindered acclimatization of such animals (13). These early liberations were made at the expense of private individuals so, as a means of sharing the financial burden, syndicates were formed, called Acclimatisation Societies (14). Recognized by statute in 1987, the control of deer belonged to these societies (15).
With an abundance of food and no competition, ungulate populations increased dramatically and so did the accompanying damage to the land. As Kelly outlines, “The first recorded public concern about the impact of deer on native forests came in 1892 when the Rev. Philip Walsh voiced fears about the effect hoofed animals were having on undergrowth, but little attention was paid and releases went on…”(16). In 1906, some of the Acclimatisation Societies realized deer numbers were becoming too high and culling was undertaken by society staff, contractors, and members of the public, with a bounty being paid per animal (17). The need for the professional hunter had been established, and an industry was born. Logan states that, “In 1907 the Animal Protection Act repealed all wild life legislation passed from 1880 to that date, and set clauses conserving imported animals for sporting purposes”. This meant that all deer species were protected and could only be hunted under licence and numbers increased dramatically. But things became worse and, in 1909, deer came under scrutiny of the New Zealand Forest Service for barking young trees in their pine plantations, and farmers were complaining of deer destroying their crops and pastures (18). In 1912, the NZFS had characterized Red deer as “…these destructive animals” (19), and the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), a government agency,“…authorized extensive control shooting ‘for herd improvement’ by Acclimatisation Societies in both islands” (20).
Alongside the menace of the deer, goats were coming under scrutiny around 1916, as McKelvey writes, “… run-holders near Wakatipu in Otago became so concerned at the way wild goats competed with domestic sheep, that they paid bounties for any shot by private hunters.” Goat control was about to move to a much larger scale and, in 1924, the first government-funded operation of goat control took place in New Zealand: location, Mount Egmont National Park (21). Continued efforts by government hunters saw the peak number of goats shot in 1946, with over 50,000 kills being recorded by Department of Internal Affairs hunters, a number that would never again be achieved (22). Big changes were also happening regarding deer control. In 1930, all protection of deer was removed, and with the change of law, large-scale operations undertaken by the Department of Internal Affairs began (23). This was the start of what was to become a full-scale war against the big game animals of New Zealand.
The next major change in policy came in the form of The National Parks Act, introduced in 1952 to achieve uniformity in policy and management of existing national parks. It brought all New Zealand’s National Parks under the new Act and established the National Parks Authority (24). Of more importance though was the introduction of the Noxious Animals Act, 1956 (25), and alongside this, the New Zealand Forest Service was “…charged with the responsibility of controlling certain animals declared to be noxious, including all forms of deer, goats, pigs, tahr, chamois, possums and wallabies.” (26). With the introduction of the Act, the New Zealand Forest Service upped the ante on deer and goat control considerably. “As a postscript to the changeover, the 92,000 deer killed in 1956 represented far and away the best year of any in terms of sheer numbers. In 1957, the figure was down to 62,500 and ground hunting would never again reach those heights” (27). Now working under the Noxious Animals Act (1956), the NZFS intensified wild animal operations, and the introduction of poisons into noxious animal control developed (28); poison being seen as a way to cover large areas of country at less cost. This was a new opportunity being brought about by a change in legislation.
1DIn the late 1950’s, a few pioneers discovered that deer were worth more than a tail and a skin, and began sending wild venison overseas. A new and voracious offshore market emerged (29). And with this hungry market, as Kelly writes:
Very quickly a venison recovery industry got underway and, with the use of fixed wing aircraft, some remarkably ingenious ways were found to get the deer out of the bush. Jet boats, tractors, trolleys and of course humans, were all used in the bush or in inaccessible areas to get the carcasses to airstrips, which were often built in rugged country on any available flat area.
But the innovation didn’t stop with just finding ways to get the carcasses from the bush, and a new and improved way of shooting deer was discovered: welcome the helicopter. Wild animal control was never to be quite the same again.

A turning point in the industry:
The helicopter was first used in the late 1950’s as a tool for ferrying supplies for hunters and materials for huts and other infrastructure (30), but its real value had not yet been discovered. With the intensification of operations and methods and technology progressing, along with the ever-increasing realisation of the versatility of the helicopter, it’s surprising it took so long for the helicopter to be used as a hunting tool. What is just as surprising is the length of time it took for it to be recognized as a potent weapon in animal control (31). The early airborne hunters shot a lot of deer, but struggled to make money. This was due to the still developing efficiency of recovery and processing time when using helicopters, and the developing offshore market (320. As Kelly writes, “On that first day of use, in the mountains near Wanaka, 210 deer were killed.” The year was 1963 (Kelly, 2007). “Eventually, towards the end of the 1960’s the industry became more profitable, and by the early 1970’s the industry was in full swing” (33). As Logan states, “The efficiency of the helicopter is illustrated by a helicopter kill rate of four animals per flying hour from an area which in the past had only produced 1.75 animals per foot/hunting day.” The introduction of the helicopter was an innovation that changed the face of wild animal control in New Zealand – forever. But the New Zealand Forest Service was still slow to realize its effectiveness; it was the commercial operators that utilized it fully, and profited from it (34).

Goats, still on the control agenda, were, on the other hand, still being hunted predominantly by man and dog through much of the country. Places such as Taranaki, Marlborough, Nelson and Wakatipu districts were target areas (35). Large numbers were still being shot, for example, in Mt Egmont National Park “… at least 35,600 goats were shot by Park rangers and private bounty hunters up until 1960. Since 1961, control has been by government employed hunters using dogs, who have killed a further 52,000 goats” (36). Little is recorded of helicopter culling taking place during the 1960’s to 1990’s; this may be due to the fact that the focus of helicopters was on the high return for deer, as opposed to the carcass of a goat.
!AWith helicopters operating throughout the country to feed a booming international venison market, another change in legislation presented an opportunity that would make a lot of people very rich. The passing of the Noxious Animals Amendment Act 1967 and the Deer Farming Regulations 1969, introduced deer farming to New Zealand (37). Initially, conditions relating to deer farming were very stringent, and few took advantage. As conditions were relaxed [that is, definitions of what constituted ‘feral range’ where deer could be farmed] and almost becoming laissez-faire, the number of deer farms increased dramatically (38). In 1967/1968 there had been fewer than 20 applications to farm deer, with only one in the South Island (39). But markets can change rapidly, and entrepreneurs quickly realized the magnitude of the opportunity. McKelvey writes, “… by 1979 there were 850; by 1981 there were 1,540 with a total of 104,000 animals, 85% red deer. By 1982 there were 180,000 deer on over 2000 farms”, and by 1988, 3,900 registered farms (40). This led to a dramatic change in the market, and with an increasing number of farms and decreasing numbers of wild deer, commercial recovery went into decline, due to two things:
– The increased costs of wild venison recovery due to lower return per hour hunting/flying returns.
– Surplus stock could be bought cheaper and more readily from the farms for new farm ventures and export (41).
The vast number of deer being taken from the hills by both New Zealand Forest Service and commercial hunters hit a peak in 1971 when it is “…estimated that 131,000 were exported, with total kills well above this figure” (42). Live deer recovery peaked in 1979/80 with about 25,000 captured (43). The Labour Government of the time began to question the New Zealand Forest Service deer-control operations, being uncertain of whether their role was still necessary due to the helicopters reducing numbers so significantly (44). A caucus committee set up in 1973 led to The Wild Animal Control Act being introduced in 1977, repealing the Noxious Animals Act. It retained the NZFS as the overall manager of ‘pests’ (45). With this act, the principle of extermination moved to one of control, the word ‘noxious’ was omitted, being replaced by a general policy of control of wild animals; one step closer to the goal of management (46).

The end of an era: gone are the days
The number of commercial helicopter operators for both carcasses and live-capture as McKelvey describes it, “…waxed and waned following the ups and downs of venison markets and deer farming.” In 1978, there were 72 licensed helicopter operators, peaking the following year with 123 (47). But with the numbers of deer dropping significantly and the fierce competition, numbers of operators steadily declined to 50 in 1991/1992 (48). Alongside the decline in deer numbers, the NZFS was having troubles of its own. Due to the excitement and higher financial rewards, recruiting and retaining experienced hunters to undertake departmental operations was a major challenge. This led to a decline in the number of NZFS hunters, but as McKelvey writes, “…new responsibilities kept the field force numbers up so that by 1985, two years before its demise there were still 96 ‘hunters’.” These positions were focused mainly on goat and possum control operations on protected natural areas. There was a gap in the market, but the gap would not be filled for another nine years.
With the number of wild deer at a lower and more manageable level, commercial deer recovery operations declined to what could be considered a normal level (49). It was the end of an era with the deer farmers now almost wholly satisfying the hungry offshore market. A change that would bring us to the current day governing structure was the disbanding of the New Zealand Forest Service, and the formation of the Department of Conservation (DOC) on April 1st, 1987. As McKelvey outlines, “The transfer of wild animal control from the NZFS to DOC coincided with further movement in the official rationale for deer control, from one of reducing damage downstream from downstream erosion and flooding – the off-site benefits – to one of protecting the forest and other ecosystems in the mountains for their inherent values.”
Historical priorities and mentalities were slowly changing, from extermination, to control, to protection of inherent values of ecosystems. Parkes outlines that, “Currently, wild and feral mammals present in New Zealand are defined and their management determined under two main Acts, the Conservation Act 1987 and the Biosecurity Act 1993.” He further explains that:
“The Conservation Act, administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC), stresses the protection of indigenous biota (including the native bats and marine mammals) and ecosystems, and, by implication in the main act, essentially determines that introduced mammals are pests where they adversely affect these values.”
The Biosecurity Act, on the other hand, as Parkes describes, is “… administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, where it concerns management of pests and sets out the rules for establishing concerted action against species nominated in national or regional pest management strategies.”
With continued protection of the forests and other ecosystems needed, along with coordinated action against wild animals, the demand for hunters still remained (51). In the hills the goats and deer were oblivious to the change in governmental structure and legislation; they kept breeding. Due to the deer population being under control, and an ever-increasing recreational hunting population shooting them, control priorities shifted to goats. Commercial and recreational hunters did not target goats as much, there were large populations inhabiting bush and, their prolific rate of breeding meant DOC had a job on their hands and still employed hunters. From the ashes of the venison industry, a handful of entrepreneurs saw a gap in the market for the establishment of private goat control operations, and with that glint of opportunity, a new wave of animal control companies were formed.

(1) Parkes
(2) Caughley
(3) Kelly, McCaskill
(4) Kelly; McKelvey
(5) Parkes
(6) McKelvey
(7) McKelvey
(8) Kelly
(9) Parkes
(10) Coleman, Parkes & Walker
(11) Caughley
(12) Parkes
(13) Logan
(14) Caughley
(15) Caughley
(16) Kelly
(17) McKelvey
(18) Caughley
(19) Caughley
(20) Caughley
(21) McKelvey, Parkes
(22) McKelvey
(23) McKelvey
(24) McLintock
(25) Kelly, McCaskill
(26) Kelly, 2007; McCaskill, 1973
(27) Kelly
(28) Logan
(29) Kelly
(30) – (33) Logan
(34) Kelly
(35) McKelvey
(36) Parkes
(37) McKelvey
(38) McKelvey, Caughley
(39) – (45) McKelvey
(46) McKelvey, Kelly
(47) – (49) McKelvey
(50) – (51) McKelvey, Parkes

Caughley, G (1983). The Deer Wars: the Story of Deer in New Zealand. Hong Kong: Heinemann Publishers.
Coleman, M. C., Parkes, J. P., & Walker, K. J. (2001). Impact of feral pigs and other predators on macro-invertebrates, D’Urville Island. Conservation Advisory Science Notes No. 345, Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Hughey, K. F. D. & Wason, K. M. (2005). Management of Himalayan Tahr in New Zealand: high country farming perspectives and implications. (Research Report No. 276). Lincoln, New Zealand: Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit.

Kelly, M. (2007). Wild animal control huts: historic heritage assessment. (ISBN 978-0-478-14189-4). Department of Conservation: Wellington.

Laing, S. (2010, October). Chamois in New Zealand. Retrieved August 15, 2011, from
Logan, I. (1988). Past legislation: “What lessons learned?” In A. E. Newton (Ed.), The future of New Zealand’s wild animals? Seminar 2000: Proceedings. Christchurch, New Zealand: A National Seminar Organised by the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association.

Macdonald, N., & Walker, K. (2008). A new approach for ungulate eradication: a case study for success. Ventura, California: Prohunt Incorporated.

McCaskill, L. W. (1973). Hold this land: a history of soil conservation in New Zealand. Japan: Kyodo Printing Co. Ltd.

McKelvey, P. (1995). Steepland forests: a historical perspective of protection forestry in New Zealand. Wellington: GP Print.

McLintock, A. H. (2009, April 22). National parks. Retrieved August 17, 2011, from
Parkes, J. P. (1990). Feral Goat Control in New Zealand. Biological conservation, 54, 335-348.

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