Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Moose of New Zealand

On February 19th 1900, like many others at the time, 14 immigrants were bound for New Zealand. They carried with them (from Canada) the dreams of the New Zealand Government of a new enterprise. Sadly 10 of these intrepid adventurers died on the way to their new home in Hokitika on the South Island, dashing the hopes of introducing moose to New Zealand as a big game animal. The four remaining moose were released anyway and one particularly tame cow was seen regularly in the area for the next 15 years.

Despite the failure of the first introduction, the Government remained determined to try again and on April 6th 1910 10 more moose were released onto the South Island in the Fiordland area. The hopes of the backers of this project were doomed to fail. Whilst the moose did breed and were seen and hunted through the next 4 decades, their population was limited as another introduced game animal, the European red deer, out competed them for food.

The last, clear, pictures of moose in New Zealand were taken in 1953 (and can be seen here) and ever since it has been widely assumed moose had died out on the South Island. When a hunter claimed to have shot a bull moose and seen a cow and calf in the 1970s, the New Zealand Forest Service sent Ken Tustin to investigate. Ever since he has hunted and, surprisingly for this blog, found evidence that moose continue to survive in Fiordland. Dropped antlers, hair (and DNA), possible droppings and other signs point to the likely possibility they survived not only through the 1970s but still survive today.

In most cases of "introduced species" the general feeling is you should root against them, but something about the idea of some intrepid moose clinging on against all odds from a tiny population base in the most unlikely of places makes me root for the moose. I hope they are out there, getting on with their lives quietly (as quietly as moose can anyway) in the forests of Fiordland.

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