Feral deer sightings in Kaipara
Northlanders are being urged to report feral deer sightings after several were spotted – and one shot – during a recent Bay of Islands aerial operation and an earlier incident where more than a dozen deer were found in Kaipara.
Biosecurity officials from the Northland Regional Council (NRC) says the May 22 aerial sweep of approximately 2500 hectares of bush and farmland targeted Sika deer on privately-owned Far North properties in and around Elliot Bay. It was carried out by two specialised contractors from the Wellington region flown by a Northland-based chopper operator.
At the other end of the region, the NRC is working with partner organisations to deal with more than a dozen fallow and red deer found in an unauthorised fenced holding area in the Kaipara District, as well as several others spotted and shot in an ongoing control operation in regenerating bush nearby.
Biosecurity manager Don McKenzie says 30 years ago there were no known feral deer in Northland, but they’re now thought to be living in the wild in more than half a dozen locations; most the legacy of farm escapes, the balance illegal liberations sourced from other parts of the country.
Feral deer are officially classed as an ‘eradication species’ in the north, and it’s illegal to release or move wild deer in or around the region.
“To prevent the spread of feral deer in Northland, our council is working closely with our Auckland counterpart, with the Department of Conservation, the Ministry for Primary Industries and OSPRI,” Mr McKenzie says. (OSPRI is a partnership between primary industries and central government that manages the national NAIT and TBfree programmes.)
Mr McKenzie says red and fallow deer are farmed legally in the region but have escaped from farms and/or been illegally released, while Sika deer are here as a result of illicit releases alone.
“Any feral deer are an issue for us because they’re selective browsers, targeting particular forest species over others which can substantially alter a forest’s make-up, along with associated negative impacts on the fauna that rely on those plants.”
As well as destroying the understorey of native forest by browsing, grazing, bark stripping and trampling (which can all increase soil erosion) feral deer can also damage crops and exotic forests and have been implicated in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis.
“Similarly, our kauri forests are already at risk from kauri dieback and wild goats and pigs – and in some places wild cattle – are adding to that pressure; we don’t want another large hooved animal like deer spreading soil and disease through our forests.”
Mr McKenzie says the Sika deer were targeted with local landowners’ permission after sightings throughout the year from members of the local community and appear to have been illegally released by unknown third parties (presumably to hunt later).
Four deer had been spotted and one shot during the several hours the chopper and its two contractor passengers – the latter equipped with specialised thermal imaging equipment – had been in the air.
Meanwhile, in two other incidents, the regional council had received reports of feral red and fallow deer wandering in the Kaiwaka and Topuni area – close to the southern edge of the NRC’s boundary – just before central government had imposed its strict Alert Level Four lockdown.
Mr McKenzie says subsequent investigations revealed a landowner with more than a dozen animals illegally inside a large fenced area. Another several animals had been tracked and shot by NRC's deer response team in nearby regenerating bush. There was evidence a number of animals may still be in the area and the hunt for them is ongoing.
Mr McKenzie says the Department of Conservation has legal responsibility for deer farms and is considering what action might be taken against the landowner involved in the Kaipara incident and what would become of the animals themselves.
The landowner had been co-operative with officials but claimed he had been unaware it was illegal for him to keep the animals, which he had reportedly held for several years.
§ The regional council is urging anyone who sees or hears wild deer to call a 24/7 Deer Hotline ‘0800 FIND DEER’ (0800 346 333).
Specialised pest control contractors take to the air after refuelling during a recent hunt for feral deer in the Bay of Islands. PHOTO/SUPPLIED