Is it too little, too late for tahr? New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, November 2020.

By Annabelle Latz

 

Positive discussions have taken place between the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Game Animal Council (GAC) regarding the current aerial tahr control programme, resulting in changes to control work outside Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland/Te Poutini National Parks.

In July, DOC was ordered by the High Court to undertake only 125 aerial control hours of the proposed 250 hours under the Tahr Control Operational Plan for 2020/21 before undertaking further consultation. DOC was also requested to analyse oral and written submissions from stakeholders involved in the Tahr Plan Implementation Liaison Group (TPILG), before making its decision and releasing its final Operational Plan. 

The TPILG includes representatives from the hunting sector, Ngai Tahu, ecology, conservation, research, high country farmers, tramping fraternity, meat processing industry, and government bodies.

The management of Himalayan tahr is governed by DOC’s statutory plan, the Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993, that stipulates the tahr population is to be monitored and limited in their South Island range which includes Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland/Te Poutini National Parks. In total, this area is 706,000ha, divided up into seven tahr management units. 

On September 1 DOC announced the distribution of its remaining 125 hours outside the national parks would remain largely as per the original plan. 

The tahr hunting sector remained disappointed and concerned that DOC’s estimated population numbers were too high, population research was out of date, and aerial control was being targeted to the wrong areas thus effectively eliminating the tahr population for hunters in some places. 

“It’s really sad, as there’s so much common ground between stakeholders with 90% of the recent submissions all on the same page,” said Tahr Foundation spokesperson Willie Duley.

On September 8 DOC met with the Game Animal Council (GAC) to discuss where the remaining 77 hours of control work outside the two national parks would be undertaken. Following plenty of discussion, it was agreed to reallocate some of the control hours to target less accessible areas of the feral range, and keep the more accessible areas for hunters. 

“We are reducing our previously planned control hours within the South Rakaia and Upper Rangitata management unit which is favoured by hunters,” DOC’s Operational Director Dr Ben Reddiex said. 

DOC agreed to avoid popular hunting spots and huts, focus on controlling high densities of tahr within terrain that is less suitable for ground hunting. It would leave identifiable male tahr for hunters outside of the national parks’ management unit, improve hunter access by extending the popular tahr ballot. The latest control data is regularly updated on DOC’s website.

GAC general manager Tim Gale was satisfied with the result of the discussions, and this is what the tahr hunting sector wanted all along – an open discussion and to have all the information on the table.

“Everyone has always agreed that tahr do need managing, it’s about how much, how many tahr, by whom, and where. It’s about the quantum of control.”

GAC mapped out areas and suggested places where recreational hunters were unable to access and official control should target, as opposed to ballot landing sites and really popular hunting areas.

“It was a two-way, free and frank discussion about the pros and cons of the current allocation of hours within the Management Units, and the merits of reallocating hours,” Gale said.

The outcome was positive, which now means DOC is still getting the tahr control they wanted, and the tahr hunting sector can continue to hunt in the popular and accessible areas.

Gale said the potential risk lies in the coming year, the drop in breeding due to the number of juveniles and nannies that have been targeted by recent control programmes. 

“The bulls will start to die of natural mortality, or get shot, and with reduced recruitment, the population may just fall off the cliff in some places.”

In mid October DOC held a meeting with the TPILG to discuss a Research and Monitoring Strategy in order to help identify priorities for tahr research and monitoring. 

“There are questions we need to be asking in the research. How many tahr the habitat can handle, how many tahr and what types of tahr hunters need to have a good experience. It’s about tahr population impacts and ecology, understanding hunting, knowing how many bulls there are compared to nannies and what will happen with future herd structure. Also, how this research takes place, when, and who does it,” Gale said before the meeting.

Duley sees very little concession, as the same amount of culling hours still stand and DOC continues to target the highly prized bull tahr in national parks.

He is also nervous about the damage being done to the tahr herd structure by DOC’s annihilation of the breeding nanny population as well as the juveniles, of which 50% will be males.

“We will see the real damage in the years to come, there won’t be those young bull replacements and as soon as the old bulls die off, there will be some massive age gaps. This won’t help when the tourist hunters come back looking for a trophy bull.”

Duley says it’s a case of ‘too little too late’ for DOC’s decision to back out early from some of the management units and they should have listened to the industry’s advice on where culling was needed from the word go. 

“We’re on the ground, we know the tahr hot spots but they ignored us”.

“They have already culled those units in round one, so the damage is already done. It’s only logical that they would now focus on the more inaccessible areas with higher populations. It’s just really sad, this whole process could have been managed so much better by DOC, without all the conflict. I’m deeply concerned about what future lies ahead for the tahr and all hunting communities around the country”

James Cagney, Professional Hunting Guides Association president, says the $103 million commercial hunting industry must be protected. 

At least 95% of those hunters are from outside our borders, and of that, 82% are from the United States.

Cagney adds that 20% of that international market is tahr driven, as NZ is the only readily accessible tahr hunting destination in the world. Hunters capitalise on this, usually hunting for red stags too.

If the tahr hunting option was removed, hunters would most likely choose a destination closer to their own homes to hunt for red stags.

“The big factor with tahr is they are a really big drawcard for overseas hunters. The value of the tahr herd to the hunting industry is greater than the revenue generated by tahr.”

Cagney is concerned DOC is launching into the culling programme without pausing to assess the numbers of tahr currently out there. 

“We have a male-bias herd, the proposed culling could reduce the breeding population to as low as 2000 females.”

He says in the last three years more than 18,000 tahr have been killed, and DOC’s failure to pause and assess numbers has caused genuine fear amongst the hunting community.

“The 1993 Plan talks about a number of 10,000, but wasn’t hard and fast. It’s time to pause, do some monitoring, establish where the herd is currently, and propose what the population will look like afterwards.”

Cagney explains the required research really has two basic stages. The first is to establish how many there are, get a gauge of the demographic and male/female densities. The second is getting into the nuts and bolts, scientifically assessing the impact on vegetation and how many tahr specific areas can sustain. 

“The hunting sector values our biodiversity just as much as the conservationists do. But we believe with science and proper management, we can have positive outcomes for both.”

 

Pendulum needs to swing back

The Himalayan Tahr Plan from 1993 sits on the shelf in Dr David Norton’s office in the Forestry Department at the University of Canterbury gathering dust.

“I say to my students, there is no point creating something that is going to sit on the shelf and gather dust, it has to be something you reference and use regularly.”

Norton is a Professor in Ecology and Conservation Biology, and someone who has been knocking around in the mountains for the past 40-odd years, and also an expert on forest and alpine systems, and holds a thorough understanding of the partnership between land users, hunters, and the environment. 

As herbivores and mob animals, tahr eat grasses, herbs, shrubs, tussocks, forest seedlings, and in turn can change tall tussock grassland to short tussock grassland.

“They also eat large palatable herbs, and enjoy soft palatable food like buttercups, including the Mt Cook Buttercup.”

“Population density should have been managed over the years since the plan was written in 1993, and vegetation monitoring plots measured regularly, and DOC should have been working with hunters the whole time, but these things haven’t happened.”

Norton shares Gale’s view that there has been some really good progress recently between DOC and stakeholders, but these conversations need to lead to further change. 

“I guess my hope and wish is that the communication between DOC and GAC evolves into the development of a new version of the tahr control plan and to its ongoing implementation. I really believe that only through true collaboration will we be able to get a sustainable solution that meets both conservation and hunter interests.”

Norton was left feeling more optimistic after recent conversations with DOC, but it is always a worry of his when politics gets in the way of sensible resource management decision making.

“The pendulum needs to swing back again. We all need to sit down together and work out how to move forward with managing tahr in a collaborative manner.”

He acknowledges DOC has not had the funding to put their required resources into the plan, but the two fundamental problems of lack of tahr population management and lack of communication needs to be sorted out. 

“The blame doesn’t lie with any one community. But there needs to be a rational discussion about how many animals are out there and what their impacts are at different densities and in different areas, so let’s get some good science in there, and figure out a sustainable management solution together.”

 

 

‘Everyone has always agreed that tahr do need managing, it’s about how much, how many tahr, by whom, and where. It’s about the quantum of control.’

See the article online here

Too little | With Belles On
Too little | With Belles On
Too little | With Belles On

Screaming out for strong marketing, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, November 2020.

Marketing, targets and research is what the New Zealand strong wool industry needs for it to become the fibre of choice, rather than synthetics. 

Rick Orr of Red Oak Stud says this has been the industry’s downfall.

“The biggest problem is that we do nothing to add value to the strong wool industry. We don’t process anything here. Wool factories are closing down, but we need to make more products here.”

Red Oak Stud has been in the Orr family since 1923, and Rick and his wife Deb have been farming Romneys since 1989.

This Romney ram breeding venture began in Wanganui, where they would sell up to 400 rams a year.

During the 1990s, together with a group of clients, they would send hundreds of bales of wool to Hunters in Scotland for tweed jackets and other strong wool products.

“We were getting a good premium.”

At the time they were undertaking plenty of wool research through PGG and WRONZ.

“We learned that the highest bulk with the lowest variation was the best option for carpet.” 

During these times there were 72 million sheep running around NZ, the United States carpet market used one percent NZ half bred wool.

“If they had used 2%, New Zealand would not have been able to produce enough.”

In 2001 The Orr family moved the stud down to Weka Pass in North Canterbury, where they run a 2100-hectare Romney and Angus stud with their son Ash. 

Rick says the North Canterbury dry summers are restrictive on performance, and there is certainly no money in buying in feed. 

They could run twice the stock in Wanganui, but had to learn to adjust. 

“We probably pushed the envelope a bit here as North Islanders when we first moved. But it’s hard when you have 30-year-old genetics and capital stock you don’t want to get rid of.”

Although Rick admits the land is a bit “too good for Merinos” they do now cross Merino rams over their Romney ewes, to try and add value and reduce the microns. 

They began cross breeding five years ago, more seriously in the last three years, because crossbred wool was performing so poorly. 

Nowadays, there’s about 17 million sheep in NZ, and strong wool is just about irrelevant.

“To shear a sheep, you pretty much pay a bill. You’re getting between $1-$2/kg, it’s absolute shit.”

They used to shear every six months, but have now opted for every eight months due to cost.

“The cost to shear is $5-$6, if you are getting $2/kg for the wool you have to get 3kg just to pay the bill. So assuming halfbreds perform well, and we can maintain the good attributes of the Romney, we will be better off. In a few years’ time, more than half the flock could be a half-bred base.”

What is interesting is that a 19-micron Merino ram over a 35-micron Romney ewe will breed progeny with a 22-25 micron fleece. 

“A 22-25 micron here, as opposed to a 32-35 micron, is worth $12-$14/kg as opposed to $1-$2/kg.”

Per stock unit, they’re better off by $40 with a halfbred. And breeding a halfbred sheep performing the same lambing-wise, they will be significantly better off.

“Nothing will beat lambing percentage and the meat price, no matter how good your wool is.”

Rick says the strong wool industry needs a marketing model similar to The New Zealand Merino Company; strong wool also needs long term direction and added value markets. 

“We have not so much given up on strong wool, but we are better off doing something we can control. But wool is a unique resource and it is sustainable, that is the big statement here.”

Ash has started taking over the reins of Red Oak Stud, where they also have an Angus breeding programme.

He enjoys the Romney bloodlines, but is nervous about the future of strong wool.

“Because how often do you see a wool advertisement? We have a lack of manufacturers, suppliers and production, so it’s just a vicious cycle. Strong wool farmers have no confidence.”

Ash says it’s time to look beyond clothing and carpet for strong wool. Insulation, cutlery, surf boards, chairs and seat covers are options that need investigation.

“And we need to breed a product that is consistent, and we need to breed to targets so we can plan.”

Ash agrees with his father that it will take some solid education about the sustainability of wool, and some Government direction.

“It would take the Government to say ‘all KiwiBuild houses have to have wool carpet.’ The Government should be saying ‘We want to use this wool product; farmers you produce it and we’ll use it.’” 

As far as the breeding goes, Ash says if NZ strong wool farmers focus on strong bloodlines and solid data, collectively there can be a consistent strong wool product to take into the market.

“Because consumers don’t realise the unique quality resource we’ve got. It deserves continual investigation and time invested, because there are so many great attributes that need smart minds and market research getting behind it.”

 

‘The biggest problem is that we do nothing to add value to the strong wool industry. We don’t process anything here. Wool factories are closing down, but we need to make more products here.’

See the article online here

Screaming | With Belles On
Screaming | With Belles On

Strong wool, tide may be turning. New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, November 2020.

North Canterbury farmer Chris Earle is among those seeking a better future for strong wool. Annabelle Latz reports.

 

Thumbing through the old wool prices on the family farm in North Canterbury, Chris Earl sees that in the mid-1980s wool was 60% of his father’s income.

His great grandfather had an article in Waipara’s 1958 Squatter and Settler publication about the cost of wool and shearing.

“It was costing them two fleeces of wool to shear 100 sheep, wool prices were buoyant and shearers were on good money,” Chris says.

In 1989 he and his wife Jane bought 156 hectares in Scargill, and this has grown into a 693ha farm, through subsequent additions and leasing.

They bred Corriedales for a decade, and dabbled with Romneys.

Chris says in the late ‘80s wool prices slipped off the pace a bit, but were still reasonable.

In 2008 they bought Longdowns Stud, which was started in Temuka by Michael and Robyn Talbot with Coopworths in the 1970s, a good all purpose sheep. From the late 1990s the Talbots introduced Texel, then  East Friesian and Finn in small amounts, to increase fertility and milking ability.

This style of sheep allowed the Earls to focus more on carcaseweight and easy lambing, rather than wool production.

‘The writing was on the wall with wool. It was becoming less and less of our income. For the push to survive, we needed faster-growing lambs, and more of them.”

Chris acknowledges that New Zealand has been very innovative in the primary sector space, particularly with regard to our dairy industry and the fine wool industry.

But the strong wool industry has been left behind.

“The point I’m trying to make here, is that as a strong wool industry we have made poor decisions. It’s something that hasn’t happened overnight, but it has been a bit of our own doing.”

He believes NZ strong wool is the best in the world, but between leaving the sheep’s back and landing in the market, there has been a lack of standardisation which has created little vision, direction and confidence in the industry.

More assistance with the marketing of it is needed to create consistent quality, clear expectations from consumers, and a driven focus for producers.

“We’re busy farming, why isn’t the Government stepping in and promoting it?”

With the NZ Wool Board now gone, a marketing gap has been left and needs someone to fill it as there is a lack of a collective voice.

“Especially with the massive global movement of the importance of a green renewable resources. We need less reliance on oil products, and wool is in the perfect position to fill that gap.”

The biggest sellers of wool are the freezing works, which is only going to increase as the cost of shearing gets higher and farmers choose to leave fleeces on when their stock is loaded on to the truck.

Adding to this, lanolin and keratin could both be better utilised as an extra income from shearing.

“Why have we given it away? We don’t get paid a cent for the grease.”

He concedes woollen carpet is never going to be the saviour of the wool industry, or insulation.

“Not when you have synthetics coming into it.”

Thinking about alternative uses for wool such as continence pads, face masks, nappies, and horticultural aids like woollen mats for around trees, is the way the industry needs to be turning.

“There is a lack of general education. People don’t understand the product, some think sheep have to die to get the wool off their backs.”

With the increase in dairy industry and fewer sheep being bred these days, Chris says it would make sense for demand of all wool to be strong.

“But we’re getting under $2/kg. The best we ever got with our wool was close to $5/kg.”

So the best favour strong wool breeders can do themselves at the moment is focus on carcaseweights.

He remembers being a kid, and the Corriedale lambs were light, with wool from their toes to their nose, and barley grass everywhere.

“We’d sit in the catching pen  and be pulling the barley grass out of their eyes.”

Today they strive for less wool, and faster-growing lambs that grade well at heavier weights, and they aim for more of them.

“In the mid-’80s the average lamb was 12.5kg carcaseweight, there was no genetics to grow them out. Today, 18 to 20kg lambs are sold straight off their mum, in the same period of time. This keeps you in the game.”

The Earls did work with a slightly lower micron of 31-32 with their earlier breeds, and they’d cut a 4.5kg fleece. But the yield was 65-70%.

“These girls now cut 3-3.5kg fleeces, with a 34-45 micron, and a yield close to 80%.”

Chris says although it looks half a kilogram difference on paper, the workload and mothering time is a lot less.

“We’re getting less for the wool, but overall it’s better.”

It’s about getting lambs on the ground.

“Because wool is the most inheritable trait you can get on the sheep. Right now, it’s about getting the stuff that pays the bills, sorted.  We can improve the wool quality later, and quickly, when the New Zealand strong wool market comes right.”

But Chris does believe consumers are looking at more sustainable options.

“The tide is turning on synthetic products, you can feel it. If that is going to be the savior, we have the trump card.”

 

‘As a strong wool industry we have made poor decisions. It’s something that hasn’t happened overnight, but it has been a bit of our own doing.’

See the article online here

Strong Wool | With Belles On
Strong Wool | With Belles On

Call for pause on tahr culling plans, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, September 2020.

A Department of Conservation programme to cull Himalayan Tahr from the mountains of the Southern Alps has stirred up the hunting community. Annabelle Latz reports.

The tahr hunting community fear the Department of Conservation will cull the tahr population in two of the South Island’s National Parks to a level that will strip away their ability for recreational and commercial hunting.

Within its review of the Himalayan thar control plan 1993 (HTCP), DOC said its estimated population of 34,500 tahr is too high, and has commenced a controlled culling programme across the feral range which includes Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park and Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

The goal is to reduce the tahr population to 10,000.

This operational plan for 2020-21 is on hold for now, however, because the New Zealand Tahr Foundation (NZTF) in early July filed judicial review proceedings against the Minister of Conservation and Director-General of Conservation. 

The foundation’s claim that DOC’s time frame to allow for reasonable review of the revised Operational Plan was inadequate, was upheld, resulting in DOC being instructed to undertake only half of its proposed 250 controlled culling hours throughout the feral range, until after further consultation with stakeholders took place. 

This consultation took place at the beginning of the month and included 12 oral and 13 written submissions. 

DOC will be making a decision about its number of culling hours by the end of the month.

Operations director, says DOC made the decision to undertake only 60 hours within the National Parks while consultation was carried out, and took place between July 1 and early August, and he said the planned activity was made public.

“DOC is in agreement that further research is needed for effectively reviewing the HTCP 1993 plan.”

Inside the 148,000 hectares of National Parks DOC wants tahr at the lowest practicable densities, (targeting bulls and nannies) compared to the remaining 425,000ha areas outside of the National Parks but still within the feral range, where lowest practicable densities is not the goal, and they will target just nannies.

Reddiex admits the plan has never been reviewed, as was intended when it was first published in 1993. He also sympathises with the tahr hunting sector, and acknowledges how special National Parks are to them as a place to hunt, but says there will still be tahr in the National Parks, just not to the quantity they are now.

“The two National Parks are just 148,000ha of the total 706,000ha, (seven tahr management units) in the South Island.”

Population density reviews happened between 2016 and 2019, tahr populations estimated from aerial surveys across a number of two kilometre square grids. 

DOC will be proactively publishing maps which include sightings of bull tahr outside of the National Parks, to help trophy hunters plan their next hunt. 

If the full 250 hours of culling does take place, valid until July 1, 2021, it will cost DOC $700,000.

The Tahr Jam was a huge success for the NZTF last month, which saw more than 1000 people in 600 vehicles drive slowly from Lake Pukaki to Mt Cook Village, in a bid to peacefully rally against DOC’s magnitude of proposed culling hours and the targeting of bull tahr in National Parks – which through mutual agreement, hasn’t happened for years;  55,000 people also signed a petition requesting DOC ‘halt the 2020-21 tahr cull and review the Himalayan Tahr Control Plan’.

As a crowd gathered in the village, some mentioned helicopter culling had begun without any prior notification to park users and tahr were being shot in close vicinity to huts and around people in the hills, ruining their long-awaited trips, some who had travelled from the North Island and incurred considerable expense. Witnesses say tahr took 18 shots to kill, while some were left wounded and died slowly in the snow.

Willie Duley, NZ Tahr Foundation spokesperson, acknowledges DOC was given the right by the High Court to begin its 125 hours of interim culling last month without consultation, but says he hoped they would have been more collaborative in their approach to reduce conflict. 

He says it’s the amount of common ground among the stakeholders tied up in this debate continually being ignored that is the most frustrating for the tahr hunting industry. Having a tahr population in the National Parks which enables the natural habitat to thrive is what hunters want just as much as non-hunters, and it can be achieved with proper consultation and a well thought out management plan.

“We can all have our cake and eat it too”.

There are 166,000 highly passionate hunters in NZ, many more than happy to continue helping with control work.

Duley is concerned with the 34,500 tahr population DOC talks about, this figure an average, estimated on their population data gathering that took place between 2016-2019 which ranged from 17,000 to 54,000 tahr.

NZTF population modelling says 18,000 tahr have been removed in the last three years, and of that 11,000 have been removed since the last 2019 population survey. This means 20,000 tahr remain, of which 5000 are estimated to be nannies which control the breeding.

“A three-fold increase in culling from DOC is frightening and totally unwarranted, particularly at a time when hundreds of hunting businesses are still hurting from the effects of Covid-19. There is no conservation imperative for this magnitude of culling and their continual spin on this issue is very misleading.”

Duley says hunting would not be viable in the National Parks if populations were reduced to DOC’s intended zero densities. 

“That is our major concern, especially when we’re the largest user group of much of the parks.”

He would also like to see DOC focus on targeting nannies as this is the best way to control population while bulls are the recreation incentive and income provider for thousands of Kiwis.  

“Our mental health relies so much on spending time in those mountains and living among tahr. I challenge anyone to say a bull tahr in that rugged and inhospitable environment isn’t impressive.”

‘I admire how they are able to survive in such a harsh environment. Those mountains, that terrain, it’s no easy feat to carve out an existence in that environment…. It’s also important to us to know where our food comes from.’

Highlight of the year

Matt Sanson’s annual multi-day tahr hunting trip with friends to Westland Tai Poutini National Park is a true highlight of his year.

A tool for escaping the hustle and bustle, spending time with friends, and gracing the same challenging and remote areas as the tahr.

“In this day and age it’s getting harder to get that kind of adventure, where you feel you are the first person to visit a place. I think time in nature and the challenge of remote places is a fundamental experience that all people should have.”

Although he admits the worst part about hunting is actually killing an animal, he says hunting is also about the connection with food.

“I admire how they are able to survive in such a harsh environment. Those mountains, that terrain, it’s no easy feat to carve out an existence in that environment…. It’s also important to us to know where our food comes from. For hunters, we know the animal before it ends up on our plate. It’s such a natural thing, it’s a natural process.”

Non-hunters sometimes join him, a life-changing adventure and a chance for the them to gather an understanding of what tahr mean to hunters as a resource.

“There are two sides to the discussion, and yes I agree that numbers need to be managed. But it doesn’t take much to tip the balance. Removing them completely from National Parks is callous and unnecessary.”

Before the cull DOC enforced in 2018, Matt would see mobs of 50 tahr, and during his recent trip to Westland he saw perhaps 25 in total.

He vividly remembers his first-ever tahr hunting trip 15 years ago up the Bettison Stream in South Westland, and that immense enjoyment still stands today.

“We love the idea of tahr collectively, more than we love individual tahr. Hunters understand the need for population control, but not at the expense of the resource that provides organic free-range meat, a fantastic challenge, and gets so many out to experience our wild and remote places.”

Matt suggests tahr is managed in the same way Wapiti in Fiordland is managed, where animal management and population control is undertaken through a strategy jointly devised by hunters and DOC.

 

 “If populations get too high, tahr do damage flora and fauna. But the tahr hunting community believe there is a balance that can be achieved between looking after the alpine environment, and having tahr there.

 

“A three-fold increase in culling from DOC is frightening and totally unwarranted, particularly at a time when hundreds of hunting businesses are still hurting from the effects of Covid-19.”

 

See the article online here
Pause on Tahr Culling | With Belles On
Pause on Tahr Culling | With Belles On

A hiss, not a roar. New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, August 2020.

The Covid-19 lockdown has kept international hunters at home and meant a very lean season for their NZ guides, as Annabelle Latz reports.

The stags were roaring, yet not a hunter was to be seen.

Owing to Covid-19 lockdown rules there were no trophy hunters gathering from around New Zealand or abroad to enjoy the roar this year.

Instead, hunting guides were left with empty appointment books, hunters stayed home, and stags remained untouched.

John Royle of Canterbury Tahr Hunter Guide NZ has been guiding for more than 12 years and this was the first time ever he’s been ground to a halt during the roar, his most lucrative season with full appointment books. He has lost potentially three months’ business.

“It’s the same with every hunting guide, and it’s going to be pretty limited basically until the borders open.”

He hunts mainly on Crown land and his clients come predominantly from Norway, Spain, New Caledonia, Australia, and France (he used some of his spare time during lockdown to learn French).

“All my clients have rebooked for next year, they all still want to come to New Zealand, which is great.”

He says most of the guiding companies are like this.

“This is a real positive for the industry.” Another positive for the industry is that antlers will have more points next season.

“Yes it’s a bad thing for this year but a great thing for next year.”

John is an arborist so counted himself lucky he did not rely solely on his guiding business for income, and has a few clients booked hunting tahr and chamois in spring.

Although John will not be adjusting his prices this year he predicted that some high-end guides, but not all, will adjust their rates for the New Zealand market, especially those who almost solely operate in the American market.

“The guides will respond to the market.”

The flow-on business effects from the downturn in guided hunting were also harmful to the New Zealand economy.

“When my clients come to hunt, they also spend a lot of money in New Zealand.”

At Mungunui Hunting lodge, near Waitomo in the King Country, Mat Hall had to write off the 2020 season. Most guides had only just started their season with international clients when lockdown hit, and Mat says the 48 hours notice was very stressful in revising their schedules for the future.

“Even during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis we didn’t have it as brutal as this.” He says many hunting businesses aimed at international hunters will be under extreme financial pressure now.

“The subsidy that was first given to tourist operators is a token acknowledgment of a cost

to run a business that’s had nearly all its income wiped out for the year.”

Mat makes antler chandeliers as an offshoot of his operation and has expanded his business to domestic hunts.

He acknowledges it takes time to be known and set up for this, with most operators offering trophies such as big red stags, fallow bucks, and bull tahr that would not usually be booked by New Zealanders.

He was busy checking boundaries, general maintenance, and working alongside police catching poachers in late April right up to the last day of alert level 4 of the lockdown.

He is optimistic about the future for his business, which he established in 2001, but believes the lockdown on the world economy will possibly affect hunters booked for next season. “You have just got to make the most out of the situation and carry on the best you can.”

New Zealand Professional Hunting Guides Association president James Cagney says having no roar this year and a drastically shortened hunting season has been a huge setback for the industry with no international visitors.

“The value is in excess of $50 million annually. The losses for 2020, at a guess, will probably be around 80-90%.”

“American hunters account for 81%, Australian hunters make up 5%. The international market makes up around 99% of our industry’s client base.”

James is based at Lake Coleridge and hunts on private high country stations and Crown land, and guided three international hunts this season before lockdown.

“We don’t have a peak summer season, our peak season is autumn, but we were dead from mid-March.”

Adjusting prices to encourage domestic hunters for the rest of the year will be an option for only some of the guides such as the ones like James who provide free-range hunting, although even they have fixed costs like lease agreements they must meet. Although this will help, it will not replace the loss of business.

The high-end hunting lodges that cater for wealthy American hunters will have a harder time bringing prices down, with high overheads they cannot offset such as trophy stags on properties and the upkeep of their properties.

“The nature of the guided hunting business, particularly with the high end, is very front loaded with marketing at the US show circuit in the Northern Hemisphere winter, property leases, and buying stags.

We will just have to hold tight until the borders open up. We need hunters coming across the border, and without them the majority of hunters can’t operate.” Stags will be in hard antler through the rut, and heading into winter will need extra feed if they’re not to lose condition.

Moving stags to other properties with more feed may be a consideration but poses its own difficulties such as TB testing, tracing through the NAIT system, and having secure laneways and farm facilities to enable transportation.

“The big question now is what is their value. They can be used again next year but may not have the same value.”

There is also a question mark around next season happening, although many clients have rebooked for 2021.

“We are watching closely – that is going to be the real cruncher for us.”

James says the most important factor to remember is that tour operators are rural people, farmers, and hunters so they are resilient. Now could be a great opportunity for New Zealand hunters to consider taking domestic guided hunts, which can be done through the New Zealand Professional Hunting Guides Association. 

See the article online here

Hiss not a roar | With Belles On
Hiss not a roar | With Belles On
Hiss not a roar | With Belles On