Deer penis exports: The surprising rise of New Zealand's pizzle industry

Pizzles are the penis of male deer and are used in traditional Chinese medicine as a sexual vigour enhancer.
Pizzles are the penis of male deer and are used in traditional Chinese medicine as a sexual vigour enhancer. Photo credit: Getty Images

By Farah Hancock of RNZ

For an export most have probably never heard of - and some would rather forget exists - the pizzle has notched up impressive growth since the mid-2000s, even surviving COVID-19.

While New Zealand's pizzle market didn't quite sizzle during the pandemic-hit year of 2020, nor did it fizzle, instead dipping from $5.2 million earned during 2019 to $4.4m.

Lost yet? Pizzles are the penis of male deer and are used in traditional Chinese medicine as a sexual vigour enhancer. They can be exported fresh, frozen, dried, smoked or preserved in brine.

Unlike cattle pizzles, which are sold as dog treats, deer pizzles are highly sought after and are often exported with some of the pelvic bone attached so buyers know they're getting the real thing and not an imposter pizzle from a dog, or a seal.

Data analysis for the RNZ's series Who's Eating New Zealand revealed the surprising trajectory of New Zealand's pizzle market.

Since 1994 more than 1700 tonnes of deer pizzles have been exported from New Zealand, earning $68m.

"They get consumed with - infused with - alcohol," said Deer Industry New Zealand's market manager Rhys Griffiths, who described pizzles, tails and sinews as deer co-products.

As well as being infused with alcohol, pizzles find their way into hot pots, a broth-based soup. After slicing the pizzle lengthwise and then into smaller pieces, it's simmered for several hours until tender.

New Zealand leads the world for venison exports, and Griffiths said pizzles are only a small portion of the overall exports

When purchased whole, the size and weight of the pizzle determines the price. In New Zealand, Cervidor offers dried pizzles, with testicles attached, ranging in size from 80 to 100gm for $299 each. For a 150gm plus pizzle, Cervidor charges $499. Some retailers package their largest pizzles in wooden gift boxes.

Ground pizzles and testicles are also sold in capsule form. One brand called "Casanova Libido" costs $44.95 for 120 pills. The product's web page, which depicts the capsules against a backdrop of an erupting volcano, says the capsules may support men's sexual drive and potency, boost stamina and support well-being.

Despite fears in 2010 that viagra and similar medications would replace pizzles, the market has continued to grow.

Three quarters of New Zealand's deer pizzles are sold to Hong Kong, with China the second biggest buyer, followed by Taiwan. Pizzles have also been bought by buyers in the United States, Finland, Germany, Canada and Australia.

"Interestingly, the deer tails market is quite a bit bigger," said Griffiths. Since 1990, deer tails have earned $127m.

"People consume deer tails in broth and what-have-you, again with an understanding or a view that it might help with things like back pain."

Deer sinews, which Griffiths said are consumed for their collagen as a beauty enhancer, have earned $65m since 1990, with Hong Kong purchasing 65 percent and China 23 percent.

"Sinew is consumed in a whole different variety of ways but they're often in stir fries. So it's quite a tasty kind of treat."

Roughly 15 percent of the value of a deer is made up of co-products, such as sinews, tails and pizzles, but deer farmers don't see the money they earn.

A 2014 press statement from the deer industry explains why. "Farmers often ask me why they don't get paid for co-products, but they do. Recoveries from co-products offset about 70 percent of the cost of processing a deer carcass," said Deer Industry NZ chief executive officer Dan Coup.

Giving farmers an itemised breakdown of what the sinews, pizzles or tails are worth would add "...considerable cost to processing. This cannot be justified unless farmers have a way of producing animals with attributes like larger tails or pizzles," he said.

While pizzles stood up to COVID-19 comparatively well, New Zealand's venison - of which 95 percent is exported - didn't.

"Venison has been hurt really, really badly this year by COVID," said Griffiths. Most venison is exported to US and European markets to restaurants. Lockdowns and shuttered restaurants meant demand dropped.

"Vaccination programs are rolling out and we're hoping that people will return back to restaurants by the time the game season hits again, October through to December January. We're hoping we'll see a bit of a rebound."

Despite the rough year, Griffiths is upbeat about the future.

"Our view is that there is a good future for the deer industry. New Zealand is the largest deer farming country in the world, which a lot of people probably don't really understand. It's something we're immensely proud of."