Farming: Of a sort … herd of Tahr?
22 Nov 2018
Guest article by Tom Hanning of Polson Higgs Business Advisers
As a recreational hunter myself I consider Kiwis so lucky to be able to head into the hills and harvest free range, organic meat … with the added benefit of full traceability! I love the challenge of both harvesting the animal in its own environment and then hauling the meat back to the truck. There is no better feeling than reaching the ute after a hard slog up-hill.
Exercise is all part of it when hunting our big game animals and the mental health benefits of reconnecting with nature are also what appeals to me. I’ve been down the bottom of a gully as dark rolls in and there’s no choice but to put one foot blindly in front of the other to reach the truck at the top. I’ve learnt how to push myself and how to harness the power of positive thinking. I find the Tux Wonder-dogs theme tune on repeat in my head makes the metres fly by.
At home in New Zealand's remote South Island alpine country, the Himalayan Tahr has been keeping a watchful eye on our mountain tops since it was first introduced as a gift from the Duke of Bedford in 1904.
The herd thrived in its new environment and over the years the numbers of tahr have grown substantially. Research funded by the Department of Conservation estimates a national herd of 35,000 (±17,000), clearly exceeding the 10,000-limit set out in the Himalayan Tahr Control Plan of 1993.
A herd this size poses a real threat to our native alpine vegetation, with the most susceptible plants on the tahr’s menu being Mount Cook Lilly and Snow Tussock. There is without a doubt a need for managing the national herd through selective culling to protect the ecology of our Southern Alps.
The key word here is "selective". With their sharp round curled horn and striking mane, bull tahr are King-of-the-Mountain and there is real value in their presence. New Zealand is the only country in the world where tahr can legally be shot and a mature trophy bull can fetch up to $14,000 on the trophy hunters’ market. To help this market survive, it is important that consideration is given to which animals are targeted in any culling operations. Targeting nannies and juveniles will have the biggest impact on reducing numbers and organisations like the Game Animal Council and Tahr Liaison Group are working closely with the Department of Conservation to protect the valuable bull tahr from culling operations.
Underfunding and inadequate monitoring have been linked to the climb in numbers since the inception of the 1993 management plan. Whatever the cause, tahr have been in the spotlight over the last few months and all stakeholders have been forced to think about how to manage our herd size. Recreational hunters are concerned that the days of being able to head out on NZ public land to retrieve a trophy and harvest meat for the table may be numbered. While guiding businesses, fully dependent on the quality of trophy bulls, are at risk of major disruption if the value of bull tahr is not recognised in the management plan.
Striking a balance between maintaining a sustainable herd and protecting our native alpine species will be a tough challenge and will require input from recreational hunters, guides, hunting representatives and DOC. With proper consultation and a collaborative approach there is a good chance of achieving reduced numbers without knocking the quality bull tahr off his throne.
I completely agree with managing our tahr numbers to protect our alpine plant species. But I only hope that when the final plan is signed off that all these factors are considered.
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