Deer live in a range of habitats and initiate damaging changes in plant communities by foraging selectively. However, deer are also keenly hunted for recreation and commercially harvested for venison.
Seven species of deer have been established in the wild in New Zealand:
- Red deer Cervus elaphus scoticus
- Wapiti C.elaphus nelsoni
- Sika deer C. nippon
- Sambar C. unicolor
- Rusa deer C. timorensis
- Fallow deer Dama dama
- White-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus
Get more informaiton about deer species.
Red deer stag
Wild populations of deer can be found throughout New Zealand, with the exception of Northland. These animals are the descendants of deer that were imported and liberated here from 1851.
Red deer is the most widespread species, and is also the most commonly farmed deer.
A related deer is the wapiti, which occurs in northern Fiordland.
Fallow deer were introduced from 1860 and are now found in many low-altitude forests, partly the result of farm escapes.
Sika, rusa and sambar populations occur only in the North Island. Sika live in the Kaweka and Kaimanawa Forest Parks in the central North Island, rusa in the Ikawhenua Range near Galatea, and sambar in the Manawatu and Bay of Plenty.
White-tailed deer live on Stewart Island and near Lake Wakatipu in the South Island.
Threat to plants
Damage to beech forest by fallow deer
Deer cause damage to native forests by feeding on forest plants, trees and seedlings. By targeting these plants, deer can change the composition of the forest understorey.
When deer populations get too large, favourite plants like schefflera, broadleaf, three-finger, hen and chicken fern and lancewood are all but removed from the ground tier in forest understoreys. Plants like alpine buttercup, Spaniard grass and tall tussocks are damaged by deer in subalpine habitats.
In New Zealand, deer have no natural predators (apart from hunters) and apart from occasional instances of bovine Tb, are relatively healthy. Whilst red deer and sika compete where their ranges overlap, none of the other deer species in New Zealand are competing for food.
We are eradicating deer from Northland, removing some recently introduced deer from Egmont National Park and preventing deer from dispersing through parts of Taranaki, controlling deer in Kaweka Forest Park to let mountain beech seedlings recover, and controlling deer in the Murchison Mountains to prevent deer from damaging plants that takahe eat.
Hunters working on foot remove deer from the mainland islands at Otamatuna (Te Urewera) and Hurunui (north Canterbury).
A research programme is underway to learn how forests respond to deer control, so deer are controlled in two North Island and two South Island study areas.
In Raukumara Forest Park we have contracted a helicopter company specialising in deer control to focus their venison recovery operations within Raukumara Forest Park. By recovering and selling the deer, the operator will remove a pest at a lower cost than would be the case if we used a search and destroy operation. The operation will be trialled for three years to measure its success before further decisions on long term management can be made.
Elsewhere, we encourage people to hunt by issuing free permits and allowing some commercial operators to harvest deer for the export venison trade.
Signs deer are present
The size and shape of the faecal pellets varies slightly between the species of deer, but generally the black or dark brown faecal pellets are deposited in groups, and are often elongated with one more pointed end. Likewise the footprints vary, but show two pointed toes.
Stags preparing for the rut thrash shrubs and saplings, sometimes completely ringbarking young trees. Wet or dry wallows are used by both sexes, when they are shedding their winter coat or during the rut. Flattened leaf litter or short ground vegetation indicate bedding sites. Deer often make trails through the bush for travelling and feeding.
Where deer are feeding on pasture or winter crops, night shooting with the use of a spotlight is often effective (private land only).
If you plan a hunt, call in for a free permit and the most up-to-date conditions for your trip. If you are hunting in an area with kiwi, weka or blue ducks, leave the dog at home or get it trained to avoid these birds.
Get more information about hunting deer.
Deer fence or predator-proof fence
Deer can be excluded from areas using deer fencing.
Monitoring your control
All operations require monitoring. Learn more about monitoring.
Faecal Pellet Index (FPI)
This is a method for estimating the abundance of deer. It is based on counts of faecal pellets along randomly placed transects. It involves counting deer pellets in small circles along a large number of short lines positioned randomly in the block.
View the Protocol for estimating changes in the relative abundance of deer in New Zealand forests using the Faecal Pellet Index (PDF, 800K) which explains the methods further.
Northland deer sightings
If you live in Northland and see a wild deer, call DOC’s infoline and let us know.
||+64 9 470 3300
||+64 9 470 3361
||2 South End Ave
||PO Box 842