Hunters head to High Court to stop Department of Conservation plan to 'decimate' tahr

It is estimated there are around 35,000 tahr on conservation land.
It is estimated there are around 35,000 tahr on conservation land. Photo credit: Department of Conservation

Hunters have taken to the High Court to stop a Department of Conservation (DoC) plan they say will leave the country's tahr population "decimated".

The Tahr Foundation lodged an application on Friday with the High Court in Wellington seeking an injunction to stop the plan. 

The application has been backed by a number of other groups, including the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association and the NZ Game Animal Council. 

It is estimated there are as many as 35,000 tahr on public conservation land, though the number of private land is unknown.

The introduced species has no native predators in New Zealand, meaning the population will continue to increase without control, DoC says.

DoC's new proposed operational plan is set to be finalised by the end of June. If approved it would come into effect on July 1. As part of the plan, female and juvenile tahr would be targeted by DoC and commercial hunters, while bulls would be hunted by commercial and recreational hunters. There would also be a large increase in how much helicopter culling is used to reduce numbers.

The draft plan proposes to focus control on: 

  • Critical work outside of the tahr feral range to stop the geographical range of tahr from expanding.
  • Controlling all tahr in Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland Tai Poutini National Parks to the lowest practicable densities to protect and preserve these special places.
  • Controlling high densities of female and juvenile tahr across the tahr feral range to reduce tahr impacts and population spread.

The Tahr Foundation says it agrees that the population needs to be reduced, but says the plan to do so is "unacceptable".

"Tahr are magnificent animals but they will be decimated if DoC is allowed to go ahead with a control plan of this magnitude," says Tahr Foundation spokesperson Willie Duley. 

"There will effectively be no tahr resource left in national parks."

He said the plan was drawn up without adequate consultation. 

"DoC's plan has been drawn up without involving hunters and then at the last minute, we have been given just two days to look at it," Duley said.

"This is not proper consultation - it is a token effort. Hunters are key stakeholders in this process and we want the courtesy of DoC engaging with us in good faith."

Don Hammond, chair of the NZ Game Animal Council, said the plan was not grounded in adequate science.

"Science needs to be the basis of any animal management plan and unfortunately there is very inadequate science regarding current tahr population densities and their impact on native vegetation in different locations," Hammond said.

"This is incredibly sad not only for thousands of recreational Kiwi tahr hunters and other New Zealanders that enjoy seeing tahr in the mountains, but also the family-run guiding and commercial hunting businesses that will be affected."

The Deerstalkers Association called the plan a "slap in the face for hunters".

A previous operational plan by DoC to control tahr was also opposed by Forest & Bird, which said it failed to meet the requirements for national parks and wilderness areas.

Last week Forest & Bird sought a declaration from the High Court that the previous plan to control tahr was illegal.

"Too many fragile alpine environments continue to be decimated by tahr, including in Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland Tai Poutini National Parks," said Nicky Snoyink, Forest & Bird West Coast and Canterbury Regional Manager.

"Bull tahr are being deliberately left in national parks, where there is supposed to be no tahr at all. We think that's illegal."

Snoyink said the population was out of control and the organisation sought an operational plan that prioritises protection and restoration of fragile ecosystems.

"National parks are being sacrificed for elite trophy hunters."

In a statement last year, DoC said there was "no plan to eradicate Himalayan tahr".

On Monday operations director Dr Ben Reddiex told Newshub the Department of Conservation would be defending the court proceedings.