Increased role for hunters in tahr management plan

The Department of Conservation's (DoC) latest plan to control Himalayan tahr numbers will give hunters an increased role in managing the animals.

Tahr were introduced to New Zealand more than a century ago for sport and since then numbers have grown considerably, with 35,000 estimated to be in the Southern Alps last year. 

The animals have no natural predators here so their population can increase without regular control, with large groups causing damage to plants that provide important food and shelter for native species.

DoC says it is ultimately working to get numbers down to 10,000, in accordance with the Himalayan Tahr Control Plan 1993.

James Holborow, DoC's wild animals manager, says the latest control plan comes after five months of engagement with hunting and conservation groups and provides an "exciting opportunity to explore greater hunter involvement" in tahr management.

"We have started discussions with the Tahr Plan Implementation Liaison Group on what hunter-led management would look like for the tahr population within the South Rakaia/Rangitata Management Unit," he said.

"This could involve hunters managing tahr populations as well as reporting on tahr numbers and the health of ecosystems. We're excited to see what we can achieve by working together with the group on this opportunity."

Holborow says the group will decide its next move based on a survey undertaken in autumn that will give more detailed information on tahr numbers in the South Rakaia/Rangitata and the Gammack/Two Thumb management units, including the gender balance of the local tahr population.

"We have decided not to control tahr in the South Rakaia/Rangitata management unit over the next year, while we analyse the survey data from this popular hunting spot. The area is accessible by vehicle, has a range of huts available and is favoured by hunters for day hunts or longer trips. We look forward to seeing recreational and guided hunters play the major part in control efforts," he said.

He said efforts this year would focus on the West Coast, where some places still have high densities of tahr.

"We will continue to focus on targeting high tahr densities on the West Coast where hunter access is challenging, and hunters and other stakeholders have reported there are still large numbers of animals. We also plan to trial using professional ground hunters to search for and control tahr in forest areas where animals can be hard to spot from the air.

"East of the alps, our work will focus on places which are difficult for ground hunters to access, but where there are high numbers of tahr."

Holborow said progress will be reviewed around the midpoint of the programme by DoC and the Game Animal Council. Resources might then be reallocated to other management areas to "optimise control".

He said hunters could expect to see control operations underway from early July.

Plan still needs updating - hunters

The New Zealand Tahr Foundation, an organisation representing hunters, said while it was glad DoC had listened to hunters "the plan still needs updating".

"Hunters are in the hills very regularly and often for extended periods," said Willie Duley, a spokesperson for the foundation.

"Following consecutive years of heavy culling, there are now huge variations in tahr population densities, even within the same management units. We have been able to provide DoC with information and maps that set out where tahr numbers are low and no culling is required and also where we think tahr numbers still need reducing.

"Coupled with information from population surveys and control operations this provides a more current and comprehensive knowledge base so more informed decisions can be made each year. It simply comes down to killing the right tahr in the right place and we look forward to seeing our input included when the control operations commence."

Duley said the foundation would be pushing for changes to target levels in order to "find the balance between quality habitat and tahr numbers".