Tahr nannies and juvenile males

Image: Dylan Higgison | ©

Introduction

DOC is working with Ngāi Tahu, the hunting sector and the Tahr Plan Implementation Liaison Group, to over time reduce the size of the tahr population back within the limits of the Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993.

Tahr Control Operational Plan

Purpose of the plan

The management of Himalayan tahr is governed by a statutory plan, the Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993, prepared under section 5(1)(d) of the Wild Animal Control Act 1977.

A key element of the Himalayan Thar Control Plan is that it sets a maximum population of 10,000 tahr across all land tenures in the tahr feral range (the legal boundary of where tahr are allowed to be).

Himalayan Tahr Control Plan 1993

1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021 plan

Update 14 July 2020: The NZ Tahr Foundation recently filed judicial review proceedings against the Minister of Conservation and Director-General of Conservation in respect of DOC’s Tahr Control Operational Plan for 2020/2021.

Justice Dobson dismissed most of the NZ Tahr Foundation’s complaints and has instructed DOC to reconsider its decision to proceed with the 2020/2021 plan after consulting with the Tahr Plan Implementation Liaison Group. This will commence shortly.

Importantly, DOC is allowed to undertake half of its proposed control as its sees fit until that consultation is completed. DOC will shortly commence 125 hours of control throughout the tahr management units.

Following control there will continue to be thousands of tahr for recreational and commercial hunting across 573,000 ha of public conservation land, 425 000 ha outside of the National Parks as well as another 133,000 ha of Crown pastoral lease and private land.

Find more information in a media release following the result of the court case

DOC's previously approved Tahr Control Operational Plan 2020/2021 (PDF, 2,106K)
Note: this plan may be revised following consultation with tahr stakeholders. 

The operational control plan focuses on:

  • critical control outside of the tahr feral range to stop the geographical range of tahr from expanding
  • controlling all tahr in Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland Tai Poutini National Parks to the lowest practicable densities to protect and preserve these special places
  • controlling high densities of female and juvenile tahr across the tahr feral range to reduce tahr impacts and population spread.

Himalayan tahr monitoring

After three summer seasons of tahr population monitoring, the total abundance of tahr on public conservation land between 2016 and 2019 was estimated to be 34,478 animals (95% confidence interval: 26,522–44,821). This estimate does not include tahr herds on other land tenures.

The current estimate is an average abundance over the three seasons of data collection using aerial surveys in the tahr management areas on public conservation land. This means we effectively average over any additions (tahr births) or losses (tahr deaths due to control operations and natural causes) to the population during this period.

The population assessment was made prior to control by DOC, commercial hunters and contractors who collectively removed approximately 11,000 tahr during July to November 2019. There has since been another breeding season.

The latest assessment from Autumn 2019 is included below along with a factsheet and a previous report.

Vegetation impacts

New Zealand alpine ecosystems evolved without mammalian herbivores (such as tahr), and many alpine plants have no defence mechanisms (such as toxins or spines) to discourage tahr from eating them.

Tahr browse on native plants that birds, lizards and insects use for feeding, nesting and shelter. The tahr diet includes some large, succulent herbaceous species including alpine buttercups and mountain daisies. Some of these species are ranked as Threatened or At Risk by the New Zealand Threat Classification System. Tahr also feed on snow tussock and shrub species which are the dominant vegetation in many of New Zealand’s subalpine and alpine environments. In extreme situations, large groups of tahr can transform tall tussocks and subalpine shrublands to a grassy turf or bare ground.

DOC has been recording the impacts of Himalayan tahr on alpine and subalpine biodiversity since the early 1990s by monitoring a network of 117 permanent plots in alpine grasslands within the tahr management units. New research since 2011 has established that there is less shrub cover in the tahr management areas than in the tahr exclusion zones (the areas to the north and south of the tahr feral range).

There are very few tahr in the exclusion zones, as all tahr present in these areas are targeted for removal to prevent the tahr feral range from expanding. High tahr numbers have led to a drastic change in the vegetation at Zora Canyon, South Westland, with tall snow tussocks in some places almost gone.

The threat of Himalayan tahr

Recreational hunting for Himalayan tahr

Verify your hunt with the Tahr Returns App

Use an app on your smartphone to record and log the number of Himalayan tahr you've hunted.

Your hunting efforts will help to inform future control operations and will help protect Aoraki/Mount Cook and Westland Tai Poutini national parks, and other public conservation land.

Download the app.

Find tahr hunting ‘hotspots’

DOC has mapped the locations of thousands of tahr observed on public conservation land between July and November 2019.

Use tahr sightings maps to help plan your next hunt

COVID-19 impacts

Throughout the duration of New Zealand’s COVID-19 response, DOC has worked with stakeholders including the Game Animal Council to support the hunting sector. Information was provided on when hunters would be able to access public conservation land for recreational and commercial hunting. 

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and Westland Tai Poutini national parks have been open for tahr hunting since COVID-19 Alert Level 2. Several Himalayan tahr rut ballot periods were impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, however the remaining 2020 tahr ballot periods recommenced on 16 May.

If hunters’ ballots were affected by COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and 4 restrictions, they were provided an opportunity to move their ballot to the same time period in 2021. 

COVID-19 and hunting.

The commercial hunting sector has been affected by COVID-19 and this will have an impact on projected control for 2020/2021. For example, Aerial Assisted Trophy Hunting operators control an additional five female tahr for each male tahr hunted by their clients. With the borders closed, tourists are not able to take advantage of South Island hunting opportunities and this has impacted the guided hunting industry.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions DOC was unable to commence work with Land Information New Zealand to survey the number of Himalayan tahr on Crown land, including pastoral leases. This aerial monitoring survey would have helped to gain a better understanding of the wider tahr population. This work is being postponed until later in the year as this type of survey is most effective between spring and autumn. It is unknown how many tahr are currently on Crown land.

Previous Tahr Control Operational Plans

1 September 2019 to 30 June 2020 plan

Update June 2020: Forest & Bird has announced it is seeking a High Court declaratory judgment that the Tahr Control Operational Plan for 2019/2020 does not comply with the Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993, the Wild Animal Control Act 1977 and the National Parks Act 1980. The Department of Conservation intends to defend the proceedings.

The 1 September 2019 to 30 June 2020 plan was developed following meetings between DOC, Ngāi Tahu, and key stakeholders including members of the Tahr Plan Implementation Liaison Group.

Tahr Control Operational Plan 2019/2020 (PDF, 1,650K)

The plan saw DOC, recreational and guided hunters, a commercial contractor, WARO and Aerial Assisted Trophy Hunting concessionaires work together to control Himalayan tahr to protect ecologically significant areas such as the national parks.

DOC control focused on protecting Aoraki/Mount Cook and Westland Tai Poutini National Parks from the impacts of a tahr population, while also stopping the tahr feral range from geographically expanding. Under this plan, DOC control took place from 1 September until 14 November 2019.

DOC targeted key areas and nationally significant landscapes and spent 40 hours in the air protecting the national parks as well as another 40 hours in the air controlling the edge of the feral range boundaries.

In all areas, DOC left identifiable male tahr for recreational and commercial hunters to control. Recreational hunters were able to log their control efforts using the Tahr Returns App. 

The Tahr Control Operational Plan was designed to work towards reducing tahr populations to the densities required under the Himalayan Tahr Control Plan 1993. It was also designed to protect national parks by moving the number of tahr in the parks towards zero density.

Alongside this, DOC continued to carry out tahr control outside of the feral range to stop the geographical range from expanding. No tahr are allowed to be outside of the feral range.

Tahr control October 2018 to 30 August 2019

DOC worked alongside organised recreational hunters, wild animal recovery operators, a commercial contractor and Aerial Assisted Trophy Hunting concessionaires to control Himalayan tahr and protect the alpine environment of the central South Island.

Tahr Control Operational Plan October 2018 – August 2019 (PDF, 290K)

We collectively made excellent progress to reduce the Himalayan tahr population by 10,000 animals to protect native and iconic plants such as the snow tussock. Maps have been produced which show the location of animals aerially controlled and where males (bulls) were observed. These maps can be used by recreational hunters as they show where control has been carried out and where large numbers of male tahr can be found.

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