Wakatipu Whitetail Study

SCI(NZ) have donated $9000 towards this project by sponsoring a collar for one of the ten deer involved. The study is by Kaylyn McBrearty who is doing a PHD on the Wakatipu Whitetail herd. The results will be used for a Management Plan for this important herd of game animals.


In March this year Kaylyn McBrearty conducted an aerial deer survey of the Wakatipu Whitetail herd. The purpose of the survey was to assess the population of deer currently to be found on Public Conservation Land (PCL).  The survey involved 3 ½ hours flying with Glenorchy Helicopters, with the machine being flown by Dick Deaker. Dick has a long association with the Glenorchy area having hunted this area for Red deer from the old bush strips before he began on helicopters.

An area of Private Land was also aerially surveyed to compare animal numbers with an area that was not poisoned and also an area that is not subjected to legal hunting.  Before the survey Kaylyn McBrearty, Clarke Walker and I spent 5 days observing whitetail deer in 3 different locations. This observation work gave us a control, i.e. we were able to assess what percentage of deer we were seeing out of the helicopter - as it turned out 20-30% of the animals observed from the ground were sighted from the helicopter.

At the end of the survey we noticed a massive difference between the population in the different areas we surveyed. The area of private land we surveyed had a moderate population, 8 deer sighted in 17 minutes. Within the area of Public Conservation Land that was not subjected to aerial 1080 poison we sighted 11 animals in 30 minutes flying time.  The remainder of the flying time was spent surveying the Dart Valley and its tributaries; this is the area that was subjected to aerial 1080 as part of the Department of Conservation’s “Battle for our Birds” (BFOB) operation. In this whole area (90 Km2) we observed only 10 deer. The Dart Valley and its tributaries is an area I know very well myself having hunted a large portion on foot and I have also spent a few days catching Whitetail from the helicopter. The population we observed has seen a massive reduction following the 1080 operation. Some areas that previously held reasonable numbers were now almost completely devoid of deer. This Whitetail population will likely take quite some time to recover, as the animals observed on this survey have already been through two breeding cycles following the 1080 operation.

Following the survey Kaylyn has used the figures and the control areas to assess the overall population of Whitetail deer that are currently to be found on Public Conservation Land. It is very likely that there are less than 200 Whitetail deer to be found on (PCL) in the Wakatipu area.  The results of the survey have been conveyed to the Game Animal Council and the NZDA in order to lobby DOC to use deer repellent in the upcoming 2016 BFOB operation over the whitetail area. Deer repellents have been trialled on captive whitetail deer and were found to strongly repel the deer from bait. Whether the repellent will work on the wild herd still needs to be assessed, but the repercussions if it is not used is clear from the results of this survey.

The massive reduction of deer in the Dart valley has caused a couple of distressing issues; firstly the open area for legal hunting in the Rees Valley has seen an unprecedented level of hunting as has the adjoining private land - in this case it is illegal hunting. Sadly hunters are not aware of how fragile the population is and hunters are killing does, juvenile bucks and even fawns. We have a situation where the number of hunters is greater than the population of deer that are able to be hunted. This herd is going to need some form of protection or controls on harvest if hunting is going to continue. With this Kaylyn arranged a meeting of parties interested in the future of the Wakatipu Whitetail deer. This group consisted of Land Owners, SCI, NZDA, NZPHGA and DOC. A formalised group is currently being formed to help manage the herd along with nominating the herd to become a ‘Herd of Special Interest’ with the Game Animal Council.

A big thank you to SCI (NZ chapter) for their contribution towards the cost of the helicopter survey. As you can see this survey was vital in determining the future of this herd and working towards minimising unnecessary and irresponsible mortality of Wakatipu Whitetail deer.

Marcus Pinney