10 questions about tahr

Department of Conservation —  07/08/2020 — 56 Comments

You might have seen Himalayan tahr in the news recently. You might also have been wondering how you’ve gone your entire life without knowing exactly what a tahr is.

Hunters, conservationists, and backcountry trampers might be familiar with these goat-like animals, but many others have been left wondering.

Well, wonder no more.

Here are 10 of the most asked questions about tahr:


What is a tahr?

Himalayan tahr are large, wild, goat-like animals. They come from the Himalayan ranges of India and Nepal, and are well-adapted to life in mountainous areas with rocky terrain.

Just like goats, they have small heads, pointy ears, large eyes, and horns. The females are smaller in size and have smaller horns.

In winter male tahr (bull tahr) develop a thick reddish to dark brown coat, with a lighter coloured ‘lion-like’ mane.

Bull tahr are highly prized as trophy animals by recreational and commercial hunters.

Bull tahr in its winter coat

What are tahr doing here?

Himalayan tahr were introduced to New Zealand at Aoraki/Mount Cook in 1904.

They were brought here and released to provide sport for recreational hunters and have since expanded into neighbouring areas.

With no natural predators, tahr have taken over.

They’ve quickly adapted to our alpine environments and can now be found in large groups (often called mobs) around the Southern Alps.

An adult kea posing in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

What’s the problem?

New Zealand’s alpine plants evolved over millions of years in isolation without any large mammals eating them.

Many of our alpine plants have no defence mechanisms (like toxins or spines) to discourage tahr from eating them, which makes them particularly vulnerable to a hungry tahr.

And because tahr can eat the plants, they do eat the plants.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Few of us have probably ever heard of these endemic alpine and sub-alpine plants that form the diet of tahr, but they are a special part of our unique environment.

These include our distinctive alpine wildflowers, large leaved buttercups, alpine daisies, native carrots, speargrasses (which can look like a giant pipe-cleaner with needles growing out of it), and also snow margarites (which is another type of daisy, not to be confused with a snow margarita, which is what Google thinks you mean if you put that in).

These alpine plants may disappear if we don’t protect them because they don’t exist anywhere else but New Zealand; while tahr are introduced.

Tahr graze in groups and keep coming back to their favourite sites, so their impacts can substantially change the composition and structure of the vegetation in these areas. Not only does this affect our native plants, but also the animals that live there, like some of our unique lizards and giant alpine wētā.

Giant alpine wētā (Deinacrida connectens) eating a mountain buttercup (Ranunculus godleyanus), a favourite for tahr | 📷: Warren Chinn

But aren’t tahr endangered?

It’s all about location.

Himalayan tahr are not endangered, but they are listed as ‘Near Threatened’ according to the IUCN because their population is declining in their native Himalayan range due to hunting and habitat loss.

It is important that tahr are protected in the Himalayas of India and Nepal, but it’s a very different story here in New Zealand, where they are an introduced species that is seriously impacting our own unique plants and animals.

For example, the scree buttercup which tahr like to eat, is as threatened as the kea.

Scree buttercup.
Scree buttercup | 📷: Alice Shanks | CC BY-NC

And once these plants are gone, they’re gone for good.


So tahr just eat plants?

Studies have shown that tahr eat lots of tussock grass, but also alpine shrubs and herbs. And not only do we lose the plants, we lose the habitat our native birds, lizards and insects use for feeding, nesting and shelter. Where they graze frequently and in large numbers, tahr can degrade whole ecosystems.

Tahr also have their favoured plants (like those large fleshy leaved buttercups) so these species will be targeted and are likely to be heavily impacted.

Tahr are very proficient rock climbers and can access sites that are out of reach to other browsers. This means they can eat plants that would otherwise have been safe on steep cliffs and rock outcrops.

High densities of tahr can damage alpine habitats by transforming tall tussocks and subalpine shrublands to a grassy turf or even bare ground.

An example of this is in Zora Creek, where comparison photos show the impacts of tahr.

Some native insects are dependent on a single type of plant, like for example the Speargrass weevil. And specially adapted alpine birds like kea and rock wren also choose this alpine environment as home and rely on intact vegetation for feeding and shelter.

If these plants are gone it has ripple effects for all the creatures that live there – no more Circle of Life. No more Hakuna Matata.


Why are you targeting tahr in national parks?

Our national parks are special.

New Zealand’s national parks contain some of our most treasured wilderness areas and we have a responsibility to protect and preserve them for future generations of New Zealanders.

Plus it’s law.

We’re legally required to reduce tahr populations to the lowest practicable densities in our national parks.

Make no mistake, we’re interested in tahr control, not eradication. Thousands of bulls and other tahr will be left for trophy hunters across 425,000 ha of public conservation land, but in the 148,000 ha of national parks, New Zealand’s native species need to come first.

We are working to over time reduce the size of the tahr population back within the limits of the Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993. You can read about where this work is at on our website.

A young tahr eating vegetation

Why don’t you collect the tahr meat?

Bull tahr are generally sought after by hunters as trophies, but they can also be hunted for their meat – especially females and juveniles.

Wild Animal Recovery Operations can control and recover tahr, but due to the vast mountainous terrain, it is not always economic to recover and process tahr for meat and there needs to be a viable market.

For us, at this point it isn’t viable to recover the meat when we control tahr due to the terrain and the high extra cost of doing so.

Tahr tracks in the snow

Can’t you just leave it to hunters?

Recreational and commercial hunting was supposed to be the main way tahr would be kept under control.

Unfortunately, numbers have continued to grow beyond what hunting could manage alone, and other forms of control are needed alongside hunting.

To encourage hunters to still do their bit, we leave all bulls outside of the national parks and we leave tahr for recreational hunters in accessible and popular hunting areas.

Irrespective of tahr control work in national parks, there will still be thousands of bull tahr to hunt across 425,000 ha of public conservation land.

And that’s in addition to the large numbers on Crown pastoral leases or private land which is where the vast majority of commercial hunting takes place.


So you’re not eradicating tahr?

No.

Hunting tahr is a special pastime for some, and no one objects to a hunter who wants to take the kids out to teach them how to hunt and collect some wild meat for the dinner table.

We understand that for some of the hunting community, tahr have a special significance. No one is seeking to eliminate the tahr population completely.

Legislation allows for a managed population of up to 10,000 tahr across Crown pastoral leases, private land and public conservation land to co-exist with our native species.

We’re aiming for population control, not eradication. There’s no intention or risk of tahr being eradicated now or in the future, but we do need to meet the objectives of the Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993.


How can hunters help?

Hunters play a pivotal role in helping us to manage the wild tahr population and protecting our alpine landscapes.

Hunters can use our bull tahr sightings and control maps to check areas where we have mapped thousands of observations of tahr located on public conservation land.

Current maps show where bulls were spotted between July and November last year. We will update these maps as soon as we can. We encourage hunters to use these maps to help plan their next hunt. 

Hunters can also report back on any tahr they’ve removed through DOC and Game Animal Council’s Tahr Returns App. This helps us to build a better picture of the role recreational hunters play in managing tahr numbers.

Tahr Returns App

Further information:

• Website: Find out more about Himalayan tahr

• Himalayan tahr factsheet: Himalayan tahr in New Zealand

• Population monitoring factsheet: 
Estimating Himalayan tahr numbers in New Zealand

• Latest population monitoring report: 
Estimates of Himalayan tahr abundance in NZ September 2019

56 responses to 10 questions about tahr

  1. 

    The Tahr have been resident in the southern alps since the early days of European settlement. Surely if they were going to do any permanent damage to the ecosystem this would of happened 100 years ago. Odd that this apparent “damage” is only a recent occurrence?? As suits a political and financial agenda.

  2. 
    Leigh Berry 11/09/2020 at 8:41 pm

    One South Island storm would do more harm to the Southern Alps in one hour than a 100000 Tahr could do in a 1000 years.

  3. 
    Leigh Berry 11/09/2020 at 8:37 pm

    Tahr are brouseing animals and do no harm to plants. The plants are better off for a pruning. They are not pigs that root the ground up.
    Mountains and hills are dead without animals.

  4. 
    Pat Prendergast 11/09/2020 at 8:06 pm

    I’ve climbed & tramped in the NZ mountains for over 50 years & have seen first hand the huge amount of damage Tahr do to the native alpine flora.. often stripping an area of every plant & leaving behind an area covered in dung. Those folk who think this is a small problem should face the fact that it is the vegetation that holds the mountain sides together & once that is gone, we face the real problems including massive erosion, plus the huge loss of one of the most beautiful alpine environments in the world. I support eradication of these introduced animals before they leave us with a mountain environment that is of little value to anyone, both visitors & locals. Patricia

    • 
      Hugh Dearing 11/09/2020 at 10:00 pm

      I am interested in the effect that this grazing has. Cutting grass actually promotes growth. And we put animal fertilizer on our gardens to make them grow.
      Perhaps the grazing of the plants and the dung left behind may be unsightly immediately after but the overall growth may be greater

      • 

        These alpine plants have evolved with limited nutrients and no completion. The extra fertiliser enables competing introduced weeds .

    • 
      Craig Jervis 19/09/2020 at 7:45 am

      Well why done you get out there and get some blood on your hands. Eradication means kill. I’m a hunter and I find it a little disturbing that a certain element of our community are quick to say control, eradicate etc but have never killed a bloody thing in there entire lives.

  5. 

    Do the mountains belong to us or do we belong to the mountains. Is nature our plaything, to be bullied and manipulated or are we a part of nature, a participant?
    Whatever the case we appear to have lost an understanding of our true or purposeful role?
    The respect for environment and animal, that is a traditional part of hunting, has been replaced by arrogance and petulant ignorance.
    We invent excuses to kill that ease the path of our collectuve conscience into darkness. The call is for constant blood. The sacrafice of animals for the sake of purification.
    Tahr fall from their mountain home in their thousands.
    In the falsely assumed saving of tussock lands something inside us dies a little more.

  6. 

    DOC, you had a cull planned and an objection from hunters caused a back down. The rest of us did not know about it so did not have input. I vote to try to eliminate them . Control is a cost we could do without.

  7. 

    We need to eradicate DOC. They are an introduced species and a pest.
    New Zealand would be better off without them.

  8. 
    David Birch 10/09/2020 at 9:00 am

    Stuff the hunters. Eradicate the Thar DOC, and take your conservation responsibilities seriously.

  9. 

    As an Australian hunter and fisher who travels over 3 times a year, its hard to understand how you can manage tahr numbers without proper consultation of the stake holders and work with those stake holders to agree and achieve a sustainable management plan.

  10. 

    DOC fake news. save the thar what have they ever done to you DOC

  11. 

    Opossums/weasels/rats/goats/deer/sheep/cows/thar….just some of a long list of imported destroyers of the once pristine natural environment here in Aotearoa.
    DOC is living a pipe dream.
    Unmanaged/uncontrolled destruction of habitat.
    DOC has a very (and shameful) track record.
    Where are the success stories that might engender confidence in New Zealanders that DOC really does have a grip on controlling/managing the Thar population.
    God Save New Zealand (or its natural environment at least)

  12. 
    Kelvin O'Hara 09/09/2020 at 12:59 pm

    IF DOC were more interactive, and MANAGEMENT (not extermination)orientated you would not be trying to cover your butts in this major public cock-up?Have started to learn anything yet???

    • 
      Paul Cronin 09/09/2020 at 1:54 pm

      If it were up to me I would exterminate them. They have no place in NZ, they are like Possums. Oh yes I enjoy hunting but I value our native flora and fauna much more than hunting. I am not happy with a population of 10000,however it is a reasonable compromise.

    • 

      Unfortunately DoC is not intending eradication of Thar

  13. 

    thanks for all this info it really help me with my speech

  14. 

    Why don’t you just 1080 the place… DoC thinks that’s the magic bullet to turn to? 60 years of dumping toxic 1080 on our national parks and in our waterways and now you’ve made up this deluded dream of killing every so called predator in NZ, good luck with that! Keeps the money machine cranking along. DoC has been hijacked by greenie loonies. And please don’t answer with more waffle spin from your paid for false science.

    • 

      You are talking old tosh here Ross. 1080 is a well researched tool in the control of introduced pests like mice, rats, possums, pigs and deer. These all cause harm to our native plants and animals. On occasions, some native birds mainly, eat some 1080 bait and die. They do this far less often than the target species. Hunters cannot kill these pests at the rate needed to give effective control.
      In this case I’m afraid it’s you who is talking fake. I will not call it science for your version is clearly not.

      • 

        Just asking where do you source your well researched information is it from DOC or independent non biased organizations

  15. 
    Scott Mckay 09/08/2020 at 8:14 pm

    Lots of interesting takes on this subject, I hunt these animals and agree they need controlling but eradication. really. Eradication in Mount Cook and South Westland National Parks it’s just impossible PERIOD! It is election year so all sorts will be promised and never delivered. If we all get out and vote maybe the “problem” will go away. 😉

  16. 

    This is going to be interesting, hmm. Well I use to work for DOC and having read some of the plans for parks and reserves of NZ. When it come to game, the exact words where total eradication.

    • 

      Hi Mike,

      There is definitely no plans to eradicate tahr. Legislation allows for a managed population of up to 10,000 tahr across Crown pastoral leases, private land and public conservation land. We’re aiming for population control, not eradication.

      • 

        Rubbish, you 1080 and that kills everything that can eat it… DoC is so full of it!

  17. 
    Gavin Harris 08/08/2020 at 5:12 pm

    Why not let hunters land by helicopter into areas e.g. West Coast ballot blocks 12 months of the year, I have hunted tahr numerous times within the allocated ballot in the rut. I would love to hunt these areas at other times of the year, but some areas e.g. Willberg would be pretty hard for some of us to access without a helicopter. Open it up and see what us hunters can do for conservation!!!

    • 

      It’s been tried and simply has not worked, otherwise there would not be so many, there are just a lot less hunters who want to do anything hard. There others that want to be there just for the pleasure of the wide open sky and don’t like getting shot at. We all have to share this place.

  18. 
    Bill Simmons 08/08/2020 at 1:58 pm

    A very clear and precise description of the situation and with validated reasons for undertaking tahr control. Tahr can eat in less than 5 minutes what takes 5 years to grow in the short alpine growing seasons. Tahr impact on plant diversity is not obvious to most people because the loss of palatable species has been insidious and incremental over the many decades tahr have been present. Fantastic country and a challenging animal to hunt but keep the numbers down. The sad reality is that even low numbers will prevent recovery of these areas.

  19. 

    What scientific data has been recorded in relation to global warming and the impact on the New Zealand high country flora v the impact on introduced species?

    • 

      Hi Mike, you can find out more about our work to protect our native biodiversity from the effects of climate change on our website: https://bit.ly/2XFeQkk

      There are some links to research, but we are not the only agency monitoring this so would suggest looking at research from other agencies and universities too.

  20. 

    I read through some of the DOC research papers on tahr. There’s not much to justify this massive cull. Also for those wanting to learn more about tahr there isn’t much to go on.
    One thing I did note is that measuring of ground cover plots showed vegetation cover is increasing under tahr self management. This is described as being a “counter intuitive” result and explained away as part of a slow recovery process. The fact is Doc’s own research shows vegetation cover is increasing in the presence of tahr.
    Another point is, both Moa and takahae grazed, and continue to graze, in the takahaes case, alpine vegetation. A recent report on the failing takahae release on the Heaphy, says vegetation around the huts was reduced to a stubble by the takahae.(does that not reduce habitat for insects too?)
    Studies have also shown that Moa migrated to the tops in summer and ate a variety of small herbs and shrubs as well as tussock.
    So to say there is some pristine ungrazed state that alpine vegetation must be maintained in is a nonsense.
    Plants are palatable for a reason. They need to be eaten.
    The big thing with any browser is overgrazing. Predators reduce this effect not by killing lots of animals as Doc is attempting to do, (and achieving) but merely by the shadow of their presence and the disturbance factor they bring. Finally management of tahr is a relatively simple thing. The number of tahr involved is comparable in stock units to a large sheep station. Any high country farmer should be able to give good advice.

    • 

      Hi Andy,

      As the article and research below points out, New Zealand had nine different species of moa, with different sizes and preferred habitat and all nine lacked something which deer and tahr have – teeth.

      Ungulates like tahr and deer have teeth, not beaks, so feed in a much more efficient and destructive way than moa.

      Deer and tahr also have hooves whereas moa had splayed feet which dispersed their weight.

      Article: https://bit.ly/30HH93z
      Link to study: https://bit.ly/2DLAFr0

      • 

        from a study i read i seen tahr mostly eat tussock. can you show me some research that shows tahr eating massive quantities of these alpine flowers.
        can you be more specific as to what ones tahr are directly responsible for endangering with a link to tahr being the direct cause?

        ive been hunting these remote places for many years and the only other people i have ever seen out there are other hunters.
        never seen one of these eco warriors sniffing and rolling around in these flowers.

        hunters in general are very passionate about our environment, and want it protected. we do hours of voluntary work trapping and planting natives. also repress introduced species.
        hunters deserve alot more respect and consideration and be involved in the process of maintaining these beautiful creatures.

        LETS NOT FORGET THE REAL ISSUE HERE, that DOC illegally failed to adequately consult with all parties involved. as shown by the court ruling.
        had they involved hunters from the beginning and came out with a plan that was science based and worked for all we wouldn’t be were we are now.
        all doc has done is sown the seeds of mistrust.

        hunters want to work with doc, not against them but again and again we are not considered.
        it is time for a shake up in the way doc is run, all management needs to be replaced by members of all the different groups.

      • 
        Karun Rawat 08/08/2020 at 7:06 pm

        Hi
        My name is Karun. I am a final year PhD student at the University of Otago.
        I would appreciate if you could share any research links that shows how significantly NZ hunters contribute to the conservation efforts?

        While doing my PhD which is about death zone guide experience, I came across NZ hunting guides but I can rarely find information about it. I am aware there are lots of unresolved issues going on between hunters and officials. The way i see it they are really doing well. It’s just properly not streamlined with policy “what to do save in order to save.” DoC is doing is best to maintain the consistency!

        I am really interested to know more about this research aspects. A lot is there to know!

        Best,
        karun.rawat@postgrad.otago.ac.nz

      • 

        From what I have seen observing emu and turkeys they pretty much peck at anything green within range. Certainly a different action from ungulate browsing but possibly more “damaging” to plants. (hence, of course, the need for divaricating shrubs) Also as fast as green material is taken in, it comes out the other end in big dollops.
        This is the essential function of browsers, refine and circulate nutrients, especially important in areas with short growing seasons.
        More fertiliser equals more plants, doesn’t it?
        As for hoof vrs claw, again observation of emu and turkeys shows their repeated trampling certainly compacts the soil.
        Also does more compact soil, by any means, reduce the level of nutrient loss in high erosion/rainfall areas? Logic says it should.
        If there is going to be more research it needs to look holistically at the true role of ungulates in the mountains.
        How does plant diversity compare, in grazed and ungrazed areas. How does soil fertility compare?
        Lots of good questions still to be answered. Time NZ moved away from the stance of fanatical nativism and considered things as they really are.

      • 

        Far out you come up with some stupid answers to justify your stance, moa by name moa by nature, they ate huge amounts of vegetation with scissor like beaks while trampling all over it on huge sharp claws. Without browsing animals in our NZ bush you wouldn’t be able to get into it let alone through it so we need deer, they replaced moa! Stop killing & poisoning everything in our national parks!

    • 

      well said

  21. 
    David Eaton 07/08/2020 at 9:04 pm

    A couple of points are that many hunters target tahr for their excellent meat. Often in areas that DoC do search and destroy in rather than focusing on the National Park areas that have restricted access. Zora is an area area often quoted as an example of too many tahr. Yet it is one of the most remote locations that DoC restrict access to.
    I have seen hectares of Mt Cook lilly and Daisy flowering profusely in areas where tahr are at what some people would say are high numbers.
    Have also seen one of the indicator species ranunculus godleyanus growing happily in catchments that contain tahr numbers that exceed the Tahr Plan thresholds.
    When the tahr plan was implemented there was no data to support anything. Even the the total number of 10,000 which was a best guess starting point.
    What was required was for the department to undertake and maintain surveys to formulate ongoing data to fine tune and modify the plan going forward.
    This was not done.

    • 

      Hi David,

      Yes, tahr are hunted for their meat and for trophies and hunters play a pivotal role in helping us to manage the wild tahr population and protecting our alpine landscapes.

      Research and monitoring has shown the damage that they are doing to our native landscapes and the impact on native plants. You can read some of the studies below:

      Assessing the ecological integrity of alpine vegetation exposed to tahr grazing: https://bit.ly/2DEv1Hh

      Long-term impacts of an introduced ungulate in native
      grasslands: https://bit.ly/2Pvxt5x

  22. 
    Leigh Berry 07/08/2020 at 7:24 pm

    Leave the harmless tahr alone.
    They are amazing animals and deserve a medal for where they live not a bullet.

    • 

      Hi Leigh,

      We’re legally required to reduce tahr populations to the lowest practicable densities in our national parks. We have a responsibility to protect New Zealand’s native species and our national parks.

      • 

        if you’re legally required to reduce thar ( or other introduced animals) how come you haven’t started on trout which eat the native fish etc in out streams and rivers. but why stop there Blackbirds Thrushes and other non native birds ; all introduced. Even the waxeye was self introduced from Australia. Then DOC turn around and introduce beetles moths and all the rest for plant pest control, How’s that worked DOC. Time you woke up and smelled the roses(also introduced). May you need someone who actually knows a bit about the flora and fauna of New Zealand in the Doc department and in the roll of minister for Doc. Hasn’t happened for years now.

  23. 

    Excllent. Hopefully any comment against the plan will be reasoned and polite.

  24. 

    Another compelling case for Thar Suppression.
    During five decades working in protected areas I have had numerous opportunities to visit and work in World Heritage sites around the world, and here in New Zealand.
    To qualify for World Heritage status, a site must have Outstanding Universal Value, meaning “cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity”.
    The spectacular 2.6 million-hectare Te Wāhi Pounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage area encompasses Westland Tai Poutini, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks as well as other areas managed by the Department of Conservation.
    World Heritage sites belong to all peoples of the world, irrespective of where they are located. This does not mean that NZ loses sovereignty over these places but that we have agreed that they are of global importance and significance.
    DOC should include this reality in the raison d’être for carrying out their statutory responsibilities for protection and preservation of National Parks for all New Zealanders and the global conservation community.

  25. 
    Russell Ramsden 07/08/2020 at 2:06 pm

    Thar for that info

  26. 
    Peter Hallinan 07/08/2020 at 1:58 pm

    A brilliant and superbly reasoned argument about a complex issue. My only gripe is the policy defers too much to the hunting lobby. However, if it persuades at least some hunters to change their views about DOC policy, that’s great.

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