The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation was formed in 1993.
The formation of the Foundation was due to fact that the Wapiti herd and the Fiordland Wapiti area needed a group to solely focus on the Wapiti deer and the environment in which they live, as opposed to sporadic attention from national groups.
Right from the get-go, the Foundation’s goals were based around having a low number of high quality, healthy, Wapiti that enabled the native fauna and flora to thrive. Early on the Foundation realised that if the environment was healthy the Wapiti herd would also be healthy, bringing with it a win-win for both recreational hunters and conservation.
Like evolution we have to change to survive in the environment we were born in. We started our lives as hunters, we initially thought were put on earth to hunt food for our families and trophies for our décor. Then we realised that the environment that the animal we hunted lived in was more important than the animals themselves, we quickly understood that without a healthy environment we wouldn’t have healthy animals.
Then came the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, formed by hunters from around New Zealand who understood that if we wanted game animals in NZ, we needed to get serious. We needed the Wapiti herd to be in low, healthy numbers and conservation was our new direction. If the environment is damaged a mountain will take generations to heal, if we overharvest a deer herd it will heal in just a few years.
These hunters became caretakers of the 175,000ha area known as the Wapiti Area of the Fiordland National Park. 20 years ago, we started taking responsibility for the area that these magnificent Fiordland Wapiti deer lived in. We started deer management and in 20 years we have removed around 18,000 deer, this benefits the environment of Fiordland while also improving the quality of the Wapiti deer for hunters. Hunters’ belief in this program is one thing, they also reached into their pockets and directly funded the deer management.
We not only run the most successful and consistent deer management program in NZ, we also invest a significant amount of voluntary time and money into native bird protection. This is achieved by running predator control lines in 5 river catchments in the Wapiti area of Fiordland. Wapiti hunters also invest thousands of hours into citizen science by reporting bird species sightings while in the area hunting, amassing over 40,000 hours of native bird monitoring each year, equivalent to 20 years of work for one person. Just to fill the weekends in we also look after 6 backcountry hut.
This is all done in the most remote place in NZ, the place where the weather is made, with around 200 rainy days per year that total 8000mm of rainfall. Then there’s the floods, wind and the snow – in this place it’s hard to get stuff done.
So, who are these Wapiti people? We are volunteers; we are builders, we are lawyers, we are farmers, we are labourers, we are Southlanders, we are Aucklanders, we are mothers we are daughters we are fathers and sons- we are just New Zealanders who care for our piece of Aotearoa and the deer that inhabit it.
It wasn’t until around the year 2000 that the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation really found its feet. This was forced upon them by the review of the Fiordland National Park management plan. The review didn’t acknowledge that the Wapiti herd should have a future in the park. Quickly the Wapiti Foundation developed a strategy with a focus on why the animals are an important part of the Fiordland landscape.
What the Foundation offered the New Zealand public, and the government of the time, weighed heavily on the side of conservation. Not only offering a low-density Wapiti herd but also a package that would help protect the unique birdlife and habitat in Fiordland. The government agreed to signing a management agreement with the Wapiti Foundation, the first such agreement ever signed in NZ.
This was accepted by most, including hunters who had agreed to invest hard cash to enable this to happen. To date, hunters have funded some major conservation projects like hundreds of kilometres of trap networks, as well as the most consistent game animal management in NZ’s history.