Two of the last remaining deer on Secretary Island, in Fiordland’s Doubtful Sound, have been culled by the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) Secretary Island hunting team.
Since 2006 Secretary Island (8140 hectares) has been the focus of a deer eradication programme, which has seen approximately 700 deer removed from the island.
The Department of Conservation’s Secretary Island hunting team. From left to right: Puni Tiakiwai, John Clark, Pat Dawson, Robert Tiakiwai, Jordan Munn, Norm Macdonald, Ben Crouchley, Chino Apiata, Dan Harrison (pilot)
DNA sampling has shown that the Secretary Island deer population has remained genetically isolated since the 1950s. By comparing DNA from scat and hair collected during the eradication to the DNA from the deer as they were despatched, as well as images of deer caught on trail cameras, it was estimated that four individuals - one hind and three stags – still existed on the island. No unknown deer have been encountered.
During the late-August hunting trip, Norm Macdonald, DOC Senior Ranger, Services (Biodiversity) said that, “We used the hunting team to systematically cover the Island with a combination of bailing and indicator dogs to detect and then flush out the hind, which was then shot from the helicopter. This deer was subsequently found to be pregnant.”
“The technique we are using on Secretary Island to remove these last deer has been constantly evolving. We are now at a point where we have a very high chance of despatching these last wary deer”, Norm Macdonald said.
The removal of the last known hind from Secretary Island is a significant milestone for the eradication programme as it eliminates the potential for fawns to be born on the island. The team also found and killed a large stag after tracking it through the island’s rugged terrain and coastline.
A deer-free Secretary Island will be a haven for native plant species that are vulnerable to deer browse, including native ferns, broadleaf, mahoe and kamahi. The operation forms part of the wider Secretary Island Restoration programme, the long term aim of which is the reintroduction of threatened species.
The project was a joint effort between DOC, local contractors and expert tracking dog handlers from Te Urewera. Te Anau Helicopters also provided aerial support.
Secretary Island is situated on the Fiordland coast at the entrance to Doubtful Sound. It is the third highest island in New Zealand, rising sharply to a height of 1196 metres and supports a diverse range of plant communities and habitats.
The only animal pest species present on Secretary Island are deer and stoats. The absence of possums, rats and mice has meant that Secretary Island has provided refuge for an abundant and diverse range of invertebrates, such as the knobbled weevil, cave weta and tunnel web spider.