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Extra funding for thar control welcome

Wednesday 6 June 2002 Wellington


Extra funding for thar control welcome

Additional funding for Himalayan thar control is a welcome boost for alpine plants the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says.

The funding of $332,000 for Himalayan thar control was announced yesterday (Arbor Day/World Environment Day) by Conservation Minister Sandra Lee as part of the Government's five year Biodiversity Strategy commitment.

"The browsing and trampling of these large goat like animals has been a disaster for the alpine and sub-alpine plants of the central Southern Alps and contributes to soil erosion," Forest and Bird field officer, Eugenie Sage said.

"The Department of Conservation, particularly in the Canterbury conservancy, has given thar control a low priority and provided limited funding for search and destroy operations. Increased funding, especially for more culling operations should benefit the rich and beautiful flora of these mountainlands."

"Forest and Bird has long regarded the Department of Conservation's Himalayan Thar Control Plan as flawed because it allows a thar population of up to 10,000 animals and relies on recreational hunters as the primary means of thar control. The plan is due for review in 2003," she said.

"Forest and Bird looks forward to major changes in the Thar Plan so that the central Southern Alps are no longer managed as a giant game park."

"New Zealand's alpine flora is internationally recognised through World Heritage status for part of the Southern Alps and is too important to be fodder for thar."

Notes to media Himalayan thar were first released in New Zealand at Aoraki/Mt Cook and Franz Josef in 1904 and 1913 in misguided attempts to provide tourists with opportunities for trophy hunting.

Alpine plant species, while hardy and well adjusted to the harsh climate and difficult soil conditions, are often slow growing. Individual plants, particularly of palatable species may be destroyed in one browsing session. Thar browsing of snow tussock can impede regeneration.

As Canterbury botanist Dr Colin Burrows has said, "The introduction of thar to the high mountains has been an unmitigated disaster for the vegetation there."

At least 21 alpine plant species are found only in the central Southern Alps and nine of these are particularly vulnerable to thar trampling and browsing. These include palatable species such native buttercups, including the showy great mountain buttercup, Ranuculus lyalli (incorrectly called the Mt Cook lily).

Thar (particularly females) are relatively gregarious and form large mobs. They have preferred sites where they congregate, often on sunny bluffy slopes. This can result in severe browsing, trampling and erosion impacts.

A significant part of the mountainlands in thar's range lie within the South West New Zealand/Te Wahi Pounamu World Heritage Area. Frustrated with DoC's inadequate control of thar, Forest and Bird reported its concerns in May 1999 to UNESCO which monitors World Heritage sites around the globe. This encouraged DoC to allow commercial recovery operations or official search and destroy operations more promptly when thar numbers exceed the "intervention density" in a management unit.

Thar numbers have climbed from an estimated 3,000 animals in 1983 (when controls were imposed on commercial recovery operations) to more than 12,000 animals in 1995 and between 7,000-10,000 animals now.


Contact: Eugenie Sage, regional field office 03 3666 317 (wk) or 03 942 1251 (home).

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