A 1080 poison operation targeting possum on New Zealand’s largest farm has angered hunters who fear it’s needlessly killed hundreds of red deer.
Deer hunters have self-funded an aerial survey in the last few weeks to count just how many of the local red deer population have been killed after a 1080 drop in late-October by TBFree NZ to control possums on the historic 180,000-hectare Molesworth Station.
While the Marlborough branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association (NZDA) says the data is still being collated, with a final report still a month away, online hunting forums suggest as many as 345 red deer have been spotted lying dead on the land.
“There were certainly dead deer seen,” said Wayne Smith, NZDA Marlborough branch committee member, “and, from observations, not as many live deer running around the hills as we would’ve expected.”
The Department of Conservation (DoC), which owns the station and leases it to Landcorp Farming Ltd, says it gives Ospri permission to run pest control operations on public conservation land.
Ospri’s TBfree programme is designed to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (TB) from Molesworth which has a long history with TB infection in its cattle herd and wildlife, dating back to the early 1960s.
Eight helicopters using GPS dropped toxic bait at 2kg/ha on a 61,200ha area after “significant public and community engagement”, OSPRI says.
“The justification for possum control was compelling and also carried significant conservation benefits,” a spokesman said.
“Ospri recognises that there is always a risk of deer by-kill as a result of 1080 application for pest control and is committed to working with hunting groups to minimise the impacts on these populations through targeted use of deer repellent.
“Although possums are the main source of wildlife infection, it is difficult and costly to directly detect TB in the possum population itself, because the disease often only occurs in small population clusters.”