Red deer from English and Scottish stock were first liberated for sport near Nelson in 1851. Since then well over 100 liberations were made up to 1924. The boundaries between the original herds have now disappeared in most of the mountainous areas from the Bay of Plenty to Southland and Stewart Island. Although red deer are found in the open country of Marlborough, the highest populations occur in areas where forest, scrub, and grassland mountainous tops lie close together. Red deer are often abundant in beech forests, in podocarp mixed hardwood forests, and in some of the exotic-forest plantations. In many areas red deer cause economic losses; for example, they destroy certain species of native plants. They have eliminated almost all regeneration in beech forests and have contributed to accelerated soil erosion and increased river run-off. Hence many of the deer-infested catchment areas have been listed as “critical”. On the other hand there are many people for whom deer stalking is a pastime.
The management of deer has changed from a policy of complete legal protection to one of extermination. From 1931 to 1956 the Wildlife Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs administered control of deer. In 1956 control became the responsibility of the New Zealand Forest Service. It is estimated that between 1932 and 1954 at least 1,400,000 deer, and possibly as many as 3,000,000, were killed. At present the policy is one of control by the New Zealand Forest Service official hunters in “critical” areas and by private hunters elsewhere. Large amounts of venison and other by-products of deer are exported annually.
Seven other species of deer have been liberated in New Zealand. They are fallow deer (Cervus dama), Japanese or sika deer (C. nippon), sambar (C. unicolor), Javan rusa deer (C. timoriensis), Virginia or white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), wapiti (C. canadensis), and moose (Alces americana). The present populations of these species have grown round the liberation centres, and none is as widespread as red deer or wild goats. One species (the moose) is reported to be on the verge of extinction and three (Japanese and sambar deer in the North Island and wapiti in Fiordland) have shown some expansion in recent years. The effect of these deer species on soils and vegetation is less serious than that produced by red deer because, for the most part, they occupy country that is less susceptible to soil erosion. Government hunters have only sporadically attempted to control these species; such work has been done mainly by private hunters.