The Sika Foundation in New Zealand was formed in 2015 by a collaborative group of recreational hunters, behavioural & ecology scientists and conservationists under the guidance of the NZ Game Animal Council and the foundations sole purpose is the management of the wild Sika deer on New Zealand’s Central North Island.
The foundation seeks to advance management by
- Actively managing the central north island Sika herd in order to provide enhanced benefits to hunters and a higher level of protection for the forests and grasslands in which they live.
- Advancing a management regime that involves a collaborative partnership between Recreational Sika Hunters, the Game Animal Council, the Department of Conservation, the local Iwi and surrounding interested landowners.
- Achieving and maintaining consistent, appropriate harvest levels of healthy Sika by better coordination of recreational Sika hunting.
- Increasing the understanding by recreational Sika hunters of the Sika herd through better information and education.
The foundation has just published a summary of its Spring 2019 management hunt which serves as a great testament to a practical and pragmatic hunter led management approach. We reproduce the report below.
Summary of Kaimanawa/Kaweka Forest Park Sika Management Hunt – Spring (Oct/Nov) 2019
Since 2016, the Sika Foundation has been working with Department of Conservation and hunting interests to identify and access increasing numbers of strategic helicopter landing sites within Kaimanawa and Kaweka Forest Parks, to increase hunting effort in more isolated catchments. These sites include locations with difficult access in western Kaweka Forest Park and away from road ends across most of Kaimanawa Forest Park. In Kaimanawa Forest Park, this helicopter access is considered a "Management Purpose" under the Conservation Management Plan, to increase deer harvest and obtain more detailed herd management information.
During the periods 25th to 28th October and 15th to 18th November 2019 a total 74 hunters in 26 hunting parties accessed a range of these helicopter landing sites. Hunters were given a briefing prior to accessing their blocks to ensure they minimised their impact; maximised their hunting success (via site specific hunting information); and to maximise data / information capture from their hunting effort. The outcomes of the resulting hunting effort are summarised in the following brief report.
Helicopter landings were made by the 26 hunting parties of between 2 and 6 hunters as per the sites identified in Tables 1 & 2. Parties had mixed weather across the two hunting periods with wind and rain a common feature. Helicopter access was restricted at times, increasing wait times for some parties. Overall, the teams did well and the data captured is hugely valuable.
The Sika Foundation also supported the Waimarinio whio protection project by subsidising helicopter flights for a team to check the existing 200 predator traps and to fly in a further 10 trap boxes, during the October hunt.
All parties were asked to supply hunting data, jaws from any animals shot and observations of wildlife and/or habitat. In total, 74 of 74 hunters provided useable data, recording some 1,860 hours of hunting. The data obtained has been broken down by landing site in the attached Tables (Tables 1 & 2 - Hunting Data; Tables 3 & 4 - Jaw Data).
The parties encountered 245 animals and harvested 45 - 4 adult Sika stags; 22 adult Sika hinds; 4 sub- adult Sika stags; 9 sub-adult Sika hinds; 1 adult red stag; 3 red deer hinds; 1 hybrid hind; and 1 large (~140lb) boar - an average of about 1 animal encountered every 7.5 hrs and a kill every 42 hours of hunting. A total of 42 jaws were recovered - 7 of these were from skeletons found. A further 9 heads were supplied to OSPRI from the Southern Kaimanawa Deer survey area. This means 100% of the deer shot had either jaws or complete heads provided and is an outstanding result. The jaws from the OSPRI samples will be added to the mix once TB autopsies are complete. Of the females in breeding condition, 16 of 26 were reproductive and 10 (38%) were barren.
The most productive blocks were the higher altitude block at Thunderbolt where deer condition was light to poor and in the Kaimanawa front country (Pukehuia) where deer condition (and reproductive rates) were highest.
Significant wildlife observations included:
- Whio were recorded in the Whitikau, Upper Kaipo, Waiotaka, Waimarino and Jap Creek. A whio nest was present at the Whitikau helipad and the hen was seen coming and going during October hunt. During the November hunt, a brood of 5 ducklings was present at that site on the Friday, upon arrival. This had been whittled down to 2 by the Monday. 25 whio were observed in the Waimarino in October, while teams were checking and laying predator traps.
- Kaka were seen and/or heard widely, with flocks of between 5 & 7 birds seen. Kaka were especially noticeable in the lower Kaimanawa country: Pukehuia, Te Tiringa, Upper Tiraki, Jap Creek, Kaipo, Waimarino, Waiotaka, Whitikau.
- Falcon were seen at Thunderbolt, Waimarino, Waiotaka, Te Puke Tops and Jap Creek.
- Kiwi were heard calling at night in Whitikau.
- Kereru were also widespread, recorded in: Whitikau, Waiotaka, Waimarino, Pukehuia, Te Tiringa,
- Upper Tiraki, Jap Creek, Kaipo, Harkness and Te Puke.
- Kakariki were noted at Paemahi and Waimarino.
- Ruru (Moreporks) were reportedly common throughout the Kaimanawa low country (Tiraki, Pukehuia,Te Tiringa, Waimarino, Waiotaka)
- Other notable observations (in no particular order) included:
- Rats were seen by many hunters during the day while hunting and around camp at most Kaimanawa low country sites
- Stoats were also seen at Whitikau, Ecology, Pukehuia and Te Tiringa
- A large cat was seen in the Tiraki
- A large (~140lb) fat boar with ripped ears was shot at Pukehuia
- 10 of 26 (38%) of potentially breeding aged females (for which jaws were analysed) were not pregnant
- Deer in light to poor condition continue to be shot in some places - mainly at higher altitude (Ecology, Paemahi, Thunderbolt, Harkness, Jap Creek, Kaipo) however deer condition is improving in some lower country blocks - most notably Pukehuia, Te Tiringa and Waiotaka.
Helicopter access for 'Sika Management Hunts' during Spring 2019 has resulted in another 1,860 hours of hunting effort and the harvest of a further 45 animals, including 35 females. 35% of the adult females would not have had a fawn this season, which highlights the ongoing need to continue to focus harvest pressure on females. However, deer quality and reproductive rates are starting to increase in some blocks.
The hunters involved continue to be very appreciative of the opportunity to participate in management hunts and showed an increasing awareness of sika management issues. The Sika Foundation is continuing to improve systems and processes to ensure the hunts run smoothly. We have worked with DOC and Helisika to ensure helipad maintenance allows for Squirrel access at most sites. This proved valuable during bad weather these hunts, ensuring most teams could get off the hill efficiently. The Sika Foundation looks forward to working with DOC, NZDA, Hunters & Habitats and recreational hunters generally, to ensure these hunts can continue in the future and to expand hunter education and awareness. A big thank you to both DOC and Helisika for their ongoing support.