New Zealand – “Kill Everything Conservation”

by Andi Cockroft

Earlier this week I had a wonderful meeting with a conservationist from India who was visiting to research conservation strategies in New Zealand.

Her most insightful comment is that unlike India where conservation involves co-existence strategies, New Zealand pursues a “Kill Everything” campaign.

In India apparently, the problems of conservation surround to a large extent encouraging people to find ways to co-exist with animals such as tigers or elephants – both of which can have real nuisance if not lethal impacts on humans.

Persuading villagers to embrace the big cats and larger mammals as a valued part of an overall ecosystem is difficult but is where the government sees the future lies.

Whereas in New Zealand, even after nearly 60 years of non-stop poisoning in our “Pest Phobia” Kill Everything fervour, all we seem to achieve is pushing rare and endangered species to the brink of extinction.

Our visiting conservationist was clearly shocked that we continue to follow this single-minded agenda that has failed so abysmally to date.

The Indian visitor was not the first to identify the hatred by some official circles to wild animals.

A Phobia

In 1958, a US zoologist Dr William Graf came to New Zealand on behalf of the state of Hawaii. Hawaii was considering liberating deer but hearing of New Zealand’s “deer menace”, sent the zoologist to investigate.

Dr Graf was escorted by government officers. Afterwards, he expressed shock at official attitudes towards deer and termed them as representing “an anti-exotic animal phobia.”

“Many government officials do not and cannot view the situation in an objective perspective,” he said.

A Forest Service departmental head – a scientist – Lindsay Poole reacted strongly and publicly criticised Dr Graf accusing the US professor of not seeing forests not inhabited by deer to thus know “what a true New Zealand rain forest looks like.”

The outburst and attack were remarkable. After all, NZ Forest Service staff had escorted Dr Graf around the country.


But the Forest Service head seemed ignorant of the evolution of New Zealand’s forests that had evolved through millions of years of browsing largely by a dozen subspecies of a flightless bird called the moa, plus canopy browsers such as kereru (pigeon), kokako and others.  

The sentence of death had been laid down in 1930 at the Deer Menace Conference master-minded by an amateur botanist Leonard Cockayne.

In 1983 a world-renowned ecologist New Zealander Dr Graeme Caughley published a book “The Deer Wars” in which he analysed Cockayne’s hatred of deer.

“Cockayne passionately hated deer,” said Dr Caughley. “When it came to deer, Cockayne could not think straight.”

Cockayne Wrong

Cockayne’s dogma was based on the false assumption that New Zealand’s forests before deer, had never been browsed. He was completely wrong.

Dr Caughley pointed out browsing by birds such as the flightless moa had been a strong evolutionary factor in shaping New Zealand’s vegetation. The dozen or so sub-species of moa became extinct about 1300 and Dr Caughley said “the sudden termination (of browsing)–led to marked changes (in the vegetation.)” 

When the early European settlers saw New Zealand’s vegetation about 1840, without browsing for 500 years, it had become far denser than the previous moa-browsed one over millions of years.

Once deer became established, the browsing component was restored to the vegetation, turning it more towards its original state of the moa era.

How many Deer?

Does New Zealand have too many deer today?

Well not according to New Zealand’s Landcare Research, who in 2001 estimated the national wild deer population at 250,000. 

That means deer numbers in New Zealand  (250,000) are about one-eighth of the United Kingdom’s wild deer population – two million (2009).

But while the UK endeavour to manage deer, New Zealand’s authorities retain the idea of “pests that must be killed.”

New Zealanders generally and more particularly the Department of Conservation, need to embrace a philosophy of living with and managing animals. 

Extermination is not management.

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12 Responses to New Zealand – “Kill Everything Conservation”

  1. Emily Sharp says:

    Teaching kids about hate and violence towards wild animals has been linked to high incidence of family violence which manifests itself when the kids grow up. Yet recently we had some cases of schools teaching children to drown baby possums and bash them with hammers. Sick, sick, sick.

  2. "Blue" Verry says:

    Your article is very good Andi. You’ve used deer as an example. Another prime example is possums. They are villified, demonised and blamed for spreading TB, browsing leaves and eating birds. All lies by bureaucrats and looney Green groups.
    Facts are possums do not spread bovine Tb, NZ’s bush has evolved under browsing and possums are herbivores (vegetarian).
    How come Australia which the possum is native to, has thriving bird populations, no bovine Tb problem and the bush is healthy?

  3. Nicholas Lorenz says:

    Blue, I don’t know if I understood you correctly but just to clarify, NZ has no bovine TB problem. The WHO lays down a yardstick of about 0.1 % infection. NZ has something like 0.0019%. NZ has extremely low bovine TB rates as to be insignificant.
    So as other commentators have asked what is the reason for OSPRI’s existence? It is funded by public and farmers’ money.
    OSPRI and DOC’s vote money allocation is based on policies of hating wild animals – so called “pests” As Andi say NZ has to be more mature and live with and manage animals – not hit them with extermination blitzes.

    • Dave Rhodes says:

      New Zealand has so little TB as to be classified as “TB Free” by international standards, yet 1080facts report as of 2014 we had 0.1% infection – they fail to report later than that.
      Plus of course there are so many factors affecting even this 7 year old statement such as infected herd movements that go unmonitored or the ineffective “skin test” that is only around 75% accurate.
      Grossly incompetent mis-management by OSPRI and TBFree.
      And just look at the image below – put a dead possum in the middle of a dairy herd and guess what? The cows curiosity draws it in for close inspection.

      • Greg Kemp says:

        Hi Dave
        Maybe this comparison between Godzone and Pommie-land will help
        Our TB rates seem quite trivial by comparison.

        But wait, according to 1080facts, we have 0.1% infection, yet according to this graph around that time we had what looks like less that 0.01% – or 10 times lower infection rate. The graph suggest data supplied directly from AHB’s Paul Livingstone.

        So which should we trust? Maybe “paid science” at work yet again…..

  4. Joe says:

    How many countries in the world have had non native species introduced into them one way or another and have learned to live with them. NZ seems via Forest and Bird and the DoC seem to have developed the mantra of “Kill them all”

  5. Chaz Forsyth says:

    Ideology empowers you to ignore the facts!

  6. Charles Henry says:

    I am frequently vilified by strangers (and friends alike) for my catch and release of possums.
    I know Andi does the same.
    But these are just too beautiful to kill for no real reason. They’re herbivores, so don’t eat flesh – they don’t even eat eggs as I think Andi experimented at
    Plus, Godzone flora evolved browsing by many species of birds, especially the huge variety of shapes and sizes of Moa. The tiny amount possums consume overnight is miniscule compared to the natural regrowth.

  7. Wiremu Kohatu says:

    Possums consume a tiny amount of the daily foliage production. Scientist Graham Nugent told a DOC “Possum Workshop” in 1994 that even if one believed the highly exaggerated figure by DOC of 70 million possums, that number would consume only 15% of the daily foliage production of NZ forests. He said (basically) it was wrong to term possums a “rapacious consumer” of foliage. Besides the forests evolved under browsing and are very well adapted to browsing. You might say “browsing” is a part of the ecosystem’s functioning, e.g. seed dispersal.
    Ever noticed if you prune a native tree/shrub how it bounces back and actually benefits.

  8. Mike Holgate says:

    Notice the internet is crammed full of DOC shrills extolling the virtues of their 1080 poisoning campaign at this location or that location, and how the birdlife is now flourishing.

    I always take the time to study the fine print as to how the success was achieved and measured.

    Invariably, these successes involve live capture of fauna whilst the poisoning campaign is underway followed by their subsequent release into a virgin area with little or no competition. Even more likely the native predators have all disappeared as well. Hawks, Moreporks etc all suffer dreadfully following 1080 application.

    A particular one that caught my eye today was actually an Australian one, but nonetheless extolling the virtues of “kill everything” – this time with brodifacoum

    The rat eradication programme divided the Lord Howe Island community

    Guess what? Native birdlife relocated prior to the poisoning event!

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