Urgent cull of South Island's Himalayan tahr population ordered by Conservation Minister

The Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has ordered an urgent cull of the Himalayan tahr population across the central South Island, claiming the numbers have reached destructive levels.

The Department of Conservation (DoC) wants to remove 10,000 tahr on public conservation land, including the Westland/Tai Poutini and Aoraki Mt Cook National Parks, over the next ten months. 

The Tahr Liaison Group - made up of organisations with hunting interests and Ngāi Tahu, will help reduce the numbers by hunting an extra 7500 - overall halving the population if successful. 

DoC estimates there are at least 35,600 tahr on public conservation land - 25,600 more than allowed under the Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993. 

The goat-like animal, which grazes at high altitudes, feeds mostly on indigenous vegetation "destroying" it, DoC director of operations for Eastern South Island Andy Roberts says.

"We will first be focusing on the Rakaia, Rangitata, Gammack and Two Thumb ranges where there are large numbers of tahr," Mr Roberts says. 

The animals will be killed from the air with professional DoC hunters in helicopters.

Recreational and commercial hunting groups have together been removing an average of about 4600 tahr each year, which is not enough to control the population.

DoC first raised concerns about tahr not being counted effectively in 2015. A new monitoring programme was launched which gathered data over 18 months showing the new species figures.

 New Zealand Deer Stalking Association president Bill O'Leary says the move could spell the end of commercial guiding on public land - a tourist drawing industry that's worth millions of dollars. 

"Currently our annual crop of animals being taken out is between 2000 and 2500," he says.

"If you reduce the population by ten thousand the guiding industry will collapse on conservation land and the only place it will continue is on private land and recreation hunters will lose interest in attempting when they're not around."

In the long run, DoC hopes to get tahr levels back to 10,000 to the levels agreed upon in 1993. 

The costs could come to $500,000 a year to help reduce these levels.