Wapiti Winter Weekend - Fri 30th Jun Sun 2nd Jul 2023
Fiordland Wapiti Foundation 2022 - 23

Animal Management

Ideology is not our game, being flexible and outcome-focused is the key to animal management. How often do you hear the Wapiti Foundation wasting precious time and money firing shots in the media, advising non-hunting groups on how to do their job?

We know how to manage deer. Our time and energy go into providing sustainable long-term protection of our patch. We are caretakers only and we take that bloody seriously. Our sole focus is to provide tangible solutions.

However, the Wapiti Foundation is not afraid to dream. Having a dream has played a large part in our success – we like to try new things and we like change. One of the dreams we have is to find or create a market that will take all of our venison. A market that will not just take all our venison but provide funds back into conservation. That dream is quickly becoming reality.

So what is stopping us from getting all our deer processed? A few things. It’s difficult to get deer processed in NZ. We would need better access to a venison plant but even then, all the Southland plants are very busy processing their own venison and plants in the rest of the South Island are a logistical nightmare.

If a venison plant was built in Te Anau? It would certainly go a long way to solving not only FWF problems,  it would go a long way to solving deer issues in the rest of Fiordland.

Jokes aside, we talk about managing deer numbers but who is stepping up to the plate and putting their money where their mouth is? Who is brave enough to get their hands dirty? Deer management isn’t for the faint-hearted.

It is amazing how often we need to justify our actions. Deer are not the first browsers to inhabit our lands, there was once a very large browsing bird in NZ, and it doesn’t take an expert to see how our plants and trees have adapted to browsing.

It’s not the deer themselves that are creating the issues, it’s the number of deer. In terms of protecting indigenous species using the ideology of zero introduced species, the horse has bolted. Dealing with the ecological footprint of deer is a minor problem compared to the ecological footprint of humans.

When boiled down, managing deer numbers is a simple job, it’s the stupidity of humans when it comes to this subject that makes it difficult.


Our objective is to recover the deer that can be safely recovered. Generally, that is around 1000 animals. Our partner in deer recovery is a group called With Wild who take our management deer and sell the venison. The partnership began in 2021/22 when With Wild took 350 animals. This season (2022/23) they took 630 so we are trending in the right direction. There are only around 1000 wild Fiordland Wapiti deer available in NZ each year so the people at With Wild are ensuring they get the market right. The chefs who are cooking with it say it’s the best venison they have ever used. They say the flavour is unique, and some are calling it ‘the Bluff oyster of venison’ because it’s seasonal, very special and worth waiting for.

It’s been a hard year for animal recovery.

Alongside limited processing space, Fiordland had the driest summer in living memory, and then for some reason we were just not seeing deer out in the open in late autumn and early winter. Then winter really hit and Fiordland filled up with snow.

The weather changes there in a blink of the eye. There have been a couple of changes to our animal management agreement. Firstly, we have added chamois to the list as we’ve noticed an increase in numbers.

Our animal management programme is based around protecting Fiordland and having a low-numbered, high quality Wapiti herd. When we undertake vegetation monitoring, we sample vegetation browse, we’re not looking at which animal is browsing it. In the Wapiti area, chamois are living in places where hunters don’t seem to go so there’s very limited recreational hunter control of them.

2022/23 Deer Management Totals
Deer recovered 630
Deer shot and left 242
Chamois shot and left 62
Recreational kills 89
Murchison Mountains 120