Red Deer (Cervus elaphus scoticus)

Introduction

Learn about the value of deer in New Zealand and how they are managed for conservation.

In this section

Although they are not a native species, deer are valued as a recreational, cultural, and economic resource. They are hunted for sport and to harvest venison.

But, unless their numbers are managed, wild deer can damage the environment by selective foraging. Large numbers also force deer to compete more for food, decreasing their size and quality. This affects hunting and venison harvest.

To manage better manage wild deer, DOC is developing a new strategic framework. This is so we can work with iwi, hapū, whānau, the NZ Game Animal Council, and communities to respond to increasing deer populations and more.

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 information about deer species.

Conservation threat

In New Zealand, deer have no natural predators. This means they can grow to large numbers without the support of hunters and others to aid in their management.

Deer populations have been building over the past couple of decades across the country. This is because they have been harvesting at a lower level than their breeding rate. As numbers have increased, deer have moved into new areas to search for food.

Deer damage native forests by feeding on forest plants, trees, and seedlings. They start with the native plants they prefer most such as schefflera, broadleaf, and hen and chicken fern in forest understoreys. Then they will move on to plants they like less. This can result in large groups of deer mainly eating falling leaves from canopy trees.

In subalpine areas, deer can damage tall tussocks and wildflowers like alpine buttercups.

By targeting these plants and altering the forest structure, deer can change their composition of plants. This takes vital food and shelter from other animals. Over time this can hinder or stop forest regeneration.

DOC's work

Developing Te Ara Ki Mua, our new strategic framework

Our new strategic framework, Te Ara Ki Mua, is being developed in collaboration with iwi, NZ Game Animal Council, hunters, and conservation stakeholders. It will be published in late 2021.

The strategy will help to address the issues of deer population increases. It will also describe how DOC will work with with iwi, hapū, whānau, local communities and stakeholders to create solutions that will be effective at place.

Since December 2019, DOC has been engaging with iwi and hunting and conservation stakeholders to understand their perspectives on deer.

Regional approaches

DOC has also engaged with iwi and stakeholders at regional sites to better manage deer populations. As work progresses, what we find and learn will used to help other regions around the country.

This includes the Raukūmara Ranges project. Announced in August 2020, this is a partnership between Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau ā Apanui and DOC, funded by the Jobs for Nature programme. The partnership aims to restore biodiversity in the Raukūmara forest.

Other management work

We are:

  • eradicating deer from Northland in conjunction with the Northland Regional Council
  • eradicating feral deer from Auckland, excepting the South Kaipara and Āwhitu peninsulas, in conjunction with Auckland Council
  • removing some recently introduced deer from Egmont National Park
  • preventing deer from dispersing through parts of Taranaki
  • controlling deer in the Murchison Mountains to prevent deer from damaging plants that takahe eat.

Elsewhere, we encourage people to hunt by issuing free permits and allowing some commercial operators to harvest deer for the export venison trade.

Current wild deer population

Wild populations of deer can be found throughout New Zealand. These animals are the descendants of deer that were imported and released 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 and rural areas, partly the result of farm escapes and illegal releases.

Sika, rusa and sambar populations occur only in the North Island. Sika live predominantly 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.

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.

Control methods

Hunting

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, apply online or 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) (opens in new window) which explains the methods further.

Northland and Auckland deer sightings

If you spot wild deer in the Northland region, call 0800 FIND DEER (0800 346 333). This hotline is funded by DOC and the Northland Regional Council.

If you spot wild deer in the Auckland regions, call DOC’s Warkworth office and let us know.

Mahurangi / Warkworth Office
Phone:   +64 9 425 7812
Email:   warkworth@doc.govt.nz
Address:   Unit 12
30 Hudson Road
Warkworth
Postal Address:   PO Box 474
Warkworth 0941
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