Date: 05 February 2009
The illegal release of sika deer at Toatoa in the eastern Bay of Plenty has Department of Conservation (DOC) and Animal Health Board staff concerned at the threat the animals pose to local stock and forests. DOC Acting Opotiki Area Manager, Andy Bassett said today that the most immediate threat is that the deer may be carrying tuberculosis that could spread to local stock.
“This part of the country is TB-free and that makes a huge difference to the way farmers manage stock movements. The sika must have been deliberately released into the Toatoa Valley as there is no natural way they could have reached the area. The nearest feral ranges for sika are the Kaimanawa and Kaweka Ranges. Both of these areas are considered high risk for the spread of TB among wild animals. We are very concerned that someone may have introduced TB to the eastern Bay of Plenty by releasing sika deer into the area,” Mr Bassett said.
DOC staff have heard rumours of an illegal release of sika deer into the Toatoa area for some weeks. The rumours were confirmed when staff members working on a blue duck survey saw some deer and recognised them as sika. DOC employed a contract hunter with trained indicator dogs to seek and destroy the animals.
“Warwick Tilley, the hunter we employed, was able to kill two sika deer within a couple of days. The rumour is that two more sika were released so Warwick is continuing to search for them. We have notified the Animal Health Board of the kills and they are keen to get results of TB testing of the carcasses.
“We have also contacted landowners in the Toatoa area and they have been quite happy for us to enter their properties and remove sika deer. They appreciate the risk of introducing TB to the district via these illegal releases,” said Mr Bassett.
From a conservation perspective, sika deer can cause major damage to native forests. The attraction of sika deer for hunters is that they are extremely elusive, so killing one is quite a challenge. For conservationists, this elusiveness makes eradicating an established sika deer population almost impossible.
Sika are both more aggressive than red deer and also browse vegetation more intensively. This means that in areas shared by both breeds, sika can displace red deer and then cause more damage to vegetation with their feeding habits. In parts of Kaweka Forest Park in disturbed sites, sika deer have eaten mountain beech seedlings to the point where they cannot regenerate. This has stopped the forest canopy from developing and if the deer were not controlled, would result in total collapse of Kaweka mountain beech forest.
DOC’s plan to remove sika deer from Toatoa before a herd can become established has the support of organisations with an interest in the district such as Environment Bay of Plenty, Gisborne Wairoa Federated Farmers and Nga Whenua Rahui. Hamish Cave of Federated Farmers was particularly concerned to ensure that all possibility of introducing TB to the area is eliminated. Dennis Peters of Nga Whenua Rahui was worried at the thought of the deer getting into a nearby kawenata (covenanted area) where local iwi have been working hard to restore native forest.
“We would appreciate it if anyone who has seen sika deer in the Toatoa area could phone our Opotiki DOC office on 07 315 1001. Any information on who might have released the deer would also be welcomed. Under the Wild Animal Control Act, 1977, anyone who illegally releases wild deer may be fined up to $50,000. I suspect that local farmers would consider that a minor amount of money compared with the cost of losing the TB-free status of the area,” Mr Bassett said.