Story: Acclimatisation

Polynesians brought kūmara, taro and dogs to New Zealand. Later, acclimatisation societies hoped to improve upon nature – they shipped animals from Britain and stocked streams with trout. They introduced a huge number of plants and animals for farming or hunting, or out of nostalgia.

Story by Carl Walrond
Main image: Hamish Foote, ‘Allegorical triumph of Sir George’ (2001)

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

Acclimatisation is the adaptation of animals or plants to an environment or climate where they are not naturally found.

Early introductions

Polynesians brought rats, dogs, kūmara and other plants to New Zealand. European sailors in the late 1700s left behind pigs and potatoes. Settlers from Europe brought many plants and animals to New Zealand.

The acclimatisation movement

In the mid-19th century, Europeans were fascinated with the plants and animals of countries they had recently discovered. They moved species around the world, and some rich English people had collections of exotic animals.

Acclimatisation societies were set up in Europe to import species. Some people imagined having antelopes and wombats in Britain for meat.

Bringing species to New Zealand

European settlers wanted to improve New Zealand by introducing species for farming, hunting and fishing – or just because they missed them. They set up acclimatisation societies in New Zealand, and brought in new species, including:

  • deer and ducks for hunting
  • trout for fishing
  • cats and dogs for company
  • possums for their fur
  • horses and bullocks for transport
  • fruit and nut trees
  • birds from home to catch insects, or because the settlers missed them.

Success and failure

Trout, deer and Canada geese formed wild populations quickly. Some species, such as salmon, partridges and pheasants, were not well suited to New Zealand. Still, societies kept trying to introduce them.

Impact on the environment

Some introduced species are now pests – rabbits were brought for shooting, but became a pest for farmers. Stoats and ferrets were introduced to control rabbits, but became a problem too. Possums have destroyed large areas of native forest.

Native species that preyed on introduced ones were often shot or trapped.

Changing role of societies

After 1990, acclimatisation societies became known as fish and game councils. Today they manage freshwater fishing and game-bird hunting, and work to protect habitats such as wetlands.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Acclimatisation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/acclimatisation (accessed 11 December 2018)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 24 Nov 2008