One of the most surprising sights to me in New Zealand wasn’t the fiords or the beaches or the hobbits—it was the deer farms. In Michigan, deer are wild, a bit too numerous for the health of the plant life, and hunted every year. Here, they graze in paddocks next to cows and sheep, they’re sometimes cross-bred with elk, and they’re used commercially for their meat and velvety antlers.
Turns out, it wasn’t always this way. Like just about everything else in this country, some idiot Europeans introduced the species, and they got out of control (see: rabbits, stoats, ferrets, possums). Red-tailed deer were imported to the forests in the mid-1800s for pleasure hunting, but they ate and trampled all the plants. By the 1920s, the government agreed that they were a pest, and they built a series of tracks and huts throughout the country to encourage hunters to stay out for weeks at a time and kill as many deer as they could. So some of the extensive walking trails in New Zealand are the result of government trying to fix a problem they should never have allowed in the first place. Sometimes good things come from bad things.
By the 1960s, the price of venison skyrocketed, and helicopter pilots got involved. They originally dropped people in the forests to collect the carcasses left by other hunters, but with the price of venison so high, too many people got involved, and pilots started shooting at each other. So the new goal became to capture the deer alive and establish deer farms. At first, they dropped men down from helicopters onto the backs of running deer, and their goal was to wrestle the deer to the ground and tie it up (they called this “bulldogging”). Whoa! But then they started using tranquilizer darts and net guns, and this was more effective.
There are still wild deer up in them thar hills, but for the most part, deer are now a farm animal in New Zealand. Rather than a rare sighting on the side of the road at dusk, grazing deer are part of the landscape here.
My Milford Sound tour guide piqued my interest in the deer of NZ, and I used this site to get my facts straight.