Blood sports for all
Because New Zealand had no land mammals (apart from bats), European settlers introduced game animals to populate what they saw as empty forests. From the 1850s to the early 1900s they brought in many species of deer, tahr, chamois and even moose, for recreational shooting.
In Great Britain, hunting was the preserve of the wealthy. At first, deer hunting in New Zealand was also rather exclusive – in the early 1900s there was a strict licensing system. But deer spread so quickly that soon anyone could hunt.
More than 250 red deer were imported in the 60 years following 1851. Most were brought from Victoria, Australia, but they originated in Britain.
Seven other deer species were liberated: wapiti, sika, sambar, rusa, axis, fallow and white-tailed deer.
Most deer hunting in New Zealand is for red deer. This is the most widespread species, occurring in both the North and South islands and on Stewart Island.
Fallow deer form localised herds in both islands. Sambar, rusa and sika occur only in the central North Island, and wapiti in Fiordland. White-tailed deer are found around Lake Wakatipu and Stewart Island. The axis deer is no longer found in New Zealand.
Wapiti were introduced in the early 1900s as a gift from American President Theodore Roosevelt. They have interbred with red deer and today wapiti-red deer hybrids occupy an area 2,000 kilometres square in northern Fiordland.
Types of deer
In 1993 one estimate put the wild deer population at 250,000. The vast majority (77%) were red deer, with smaller numbers of sika (13%), fallow (7%) and white-tailed deer (3%). Wapiti, sambar and rusa made up very small numbers.
Chamois, tahr and moose
Chamois were first introduced in 1907 at Aoraki/Mt Cook – a gift from Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. They are now found throughout the Southern Alps.
Tahr, which are native to the Himalayas, were first brought in by the government in 1904 for sport, especially for tourists. Like chamois they were first released at Aoraki/Mt Cook. They are found mainly in the central Southern Alps.
Moose were liberated in the Hokitika River valley in 1900, and in Dusky Sound in 1907. The Dusky Sound population became established, and a few were shot. They have probably become extinct in New Zealand, although there is some evidence of a few surviving in Fiordland. They probably could not compete with red deer.
Pigs were first introduced to New Zealand by the French explorer Jean François Marie de Surville in 1769, but the fate of the early pigs is not known.
Captain James Cook gifted pigs to Māori in the 1770s. The animals bred, and some escaped to form wild populations – which is why feral pigs in New Zealand are sometimes called ‘Captain Cookers’.
Feral pigs were well established by 1840, and were the first introduced animals to be hunted for sport. They are found in both the North and South islands and the Chatham Islands.
Goats, wallabies, rabbits and hares
The goat is not considered a game animal, but some hunters target them. Wild sheep (known as ‘woollies’) are also sometimes hunted.
At least seven species of wallaby and kangaroo have been introduced, and three still survive – the dama wallaby, Bennett’s wallaby and the Parma wallaby. Hunting Bennett’s wallaby in the Hunters Hills in South Canterbury is very popular.
European rabbits and brown hares are also shot, and are often the first animals that young people learn to hunt.
Razorbacks of the Pig Islands
An Australian nickname for New Zealand in the late 19th century was ‘the Pig Islands’, because of the prevalence of wild pigs. These have more muscular front legs and shoulders than domestic pigs, and smaller back legs. They are also hairier, with longer, larger snouts and tusks, and much narrower backs – which is why they are commonly called razorbacks.