There are fears the record muster of wild horses from the Kaimanawa Ranges this year could mean some have to be sent to the abattoir if homes can't be found.
The Department of Conservation (DoC) has announced it'll muster 300 next month to protect the fragile ecosystems around the Desert Road and maintain the health of the heritage horses.
The muster is held every two years by DoC to manage the herd within the Waiouru Military Training area.
"With the herd in such good condition the reproduction rate is up at around 30 percent per year" says DOC Operations Manager Dave Lumley.
"The population has risen to nearly double the recommended number. A herd greater than 300 not only impacts on the fragile environment and the condition of the horses but also increases the risk of horse migration towards SH1/the Desert Road and the related public safety concerns."
In 2016, 100 horses were mustered - and in 2018, it'll be the biggest muster in more than two decades.
The re-homing of as many horses as possible is an important part of a successful muster, says Dave Lumley.
"Ideally all horses would be adopted, as was the case for the 100 horses mustered in 2016 - however we know it's a real challenge for the groups to find so many suitable homes."
Kaimanawa Heritage Horses (KHH), a not-for-profit group which finds willing New Zealanders and prepares them to take on a wild animal, says it's had applications to adopt just 57 horses to date.
"With only two weeks left until applications close, there's not a lot of time for interested parties to deliberate. It's a real concern that some people may simply run out of time, resulting in potentially homed horses being trucked to the abattoir," says KHH Muster Coordinator Simone Frewin.
Kaimanawa horses are gaining favour among the equestrian community as highly competitive sport horses. Since numbers were reduced to 300 in the wild herd, the condition of the horses and their final mature height has improved immeasurably.
"It's devastating to think that many of these horses just won't have a chance - we're urging people to get in touch and we'll walk them through the process to take on a Kaimanawa and save a life", Ms Frewin said.