23 Nov 2018

Social media blamed for whitetail deer herd’s decline

9:30 pm on 23 November 2018

By Tracey Roxburgh for Otago Daily Times

Social media bragging rights are being blamed for the decline in numbers of Wakatipu's whitetail deer herd.

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Whitetail deer numbers in Wakatipu are falling, as they become a prize target for hunters from New Zealand and Australia. Photo: Bruce MacQueen 2014/ 123rf

Two interest groups want the Department of Conservation (DOC) to deem it a "special interest" herd for future management, but NZ Forest & Bird wants the introduced species to continue being culled.

A report to the Otago Conservation Board's meeting, held in Glenorchy this week, said numbers of the "internationally significant" herd appeared to be low, largely due to hunters pursuing the animals as a result of social media exposure.

The New Zealand Deerstalkers' Association and the Game Animal Council wanted DOC to work with hunters and local landowners to develop a management plan for the whitetail herd, with a view to it being deemed special interest.

The herd was introduced to the Wakatipu in 1904 and lives in Mt Aspiring National Park and the surrounding area.

The only other whitetail herd in New Zealand is on Stewart Island and is not a herd of special interest.

The Wakatipu herd produces most of the largest whitetail trophies in the South Pacific and up to 30 record-book bucks a year.

However, hunters posting photos with trophies online had resulted in more overseas hunters, particularly Australians, wanting to bag their own in Queenstown, the report said.

"Demand for trophies from the Wakatipu herd has increased exponentially in the past five years, owing to increased exposure on social media, and this shows no sign of abating."

The herd's production capacity could not keep pace with demand, so hunters were taking young bucks, some in velvet, meaning a "significant number" were dead before they could be considered a trophy, or breed.

Increasingly, two-year-old deer were being taken and "displayed on social media".

There were also "significant difficulties" with monitoring "brazen" illegal hunting of the herd on public and private land, also being boasted about on social media.

Conservation board chairperson Pat Garden said the Mt Aspiring National Park management plan was due for review, and the whitetail herd would be discussed.

While its presence contradicted the National Parks Act, there was a "very committed group of the public" keen to see it retained.

Conversely, Forest & Bird was "strongly of the view" expectations in the Act should be upheld and the herd exterminated as far as possible, he said.

Forest & Bird Otago Southland regional manager Sue Maturin said whitetail were known to affect conservation values which might impact the health of invertebrate and wildlife populations, such as mohua.

- This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Times.