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Research Articles

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White-tailed deer research in New Zealand

Kaylyn McBrearty

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Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are the most widely distributed deer species in the word. Native to the Americas, they are extremely adaptable animals and populations are known to escalate and spread rapidly, particularly when there is a low level of predation, disease, hunting pressure and an abundance of food.

New Zealand has the only two wild white-tailed deer populations in the South Pacific. In 1905 nine white-tailed deer, originating from New Hampshire, USA, were released into the Rees Valley, Wakatipu and nine at Port Pegasus, Stewart Island. Since then, the Stewart Island white-tailed deer population increased in size and range covering much of the Island. However, the white-tailed in the Wakatipu were not noted to have spread into the adjacent Dart valley until the 1970’s. At this time concern was expressed by local hunters and land owners that the number of white-tailed deer was too low to be sustainable.

In collaboration with New Zealand Deer Stalkers Association and local land owners, the New Zealand Forest Service placed a verbal moratorium on the white-tailed deer on all crown lease land, excluding Mt Aspiring National Park, by the non-issuing of hunting permits. Despite more than 20 years of protection from legal hunting on crown lease land, the Wakatipu white-tailed deer population is still considered low. A number of reports on the state of the herd were issued by the New Zealand Forest Service during the 1970’s and 80s, all of which recommended the continual monitoring of the herd. This was never conducted and as such, the current state of the herd is unknown.



The Wakatipu white-tailed deer are being researched as part of a Doctoral Degree through Lincoln University.
The project will attempt to determine the impact of factors which may be limiting the Wakatipu white-tailed deer, such as; hunting, mineral deficiency, genetic homogeneity and pest control operations within their habitat range.

In order to determine the impact of these factors the current status of the herd will be investigated; genetic origin confirmation and change, nutritional health, population abundance, habitat usage, sex ratio and age structure.

The results of this research will be used to make recommendations to the future management of this herd for the purpose of a sustainable recreational hunting resource. In addition, methodology developed from this research will contribute to the investigation of our other valued game animal herds.

Recommendations will be made to the Game Animal Council (2013)



This research is for the fulfilment of a PhD by Kaylyn McBrearty at Lincoln University, Department of Ecology and Life sciences, advised by Landcare Research Ecologists. In collaboration with the Game Animal Council, the New Zealand Deer Stalkers Association, local land owners and the Department of Conservation.

Sponsored by Stoney Creek.


How can you help?

Contribute to the future of game animal hunting in NZ

Currently there is no overarching organisation contributing funding to the completion of this project or the continued management of this valued game animal herd. As such, contributions by interested organisations and general public are welcomed.
(Emphasis Editor)

Get in touch! A survey on the current knowledge, past hunter experience and future management of these herds is in progress. All information shared remains confidential unless otherwise agreed to.

Contact Kaylyn McBrearty