Scottish red deer flourish in North Otago

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Red deer from the Scottish highlands arrived in Oamaru around 1870, thrived in their new environment and became internationally acclaimed as the premier trophy herd, according to Barry Wilson, patron of the North Otago branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association.

Mr Wilson has followed issues relating to the Otago Highland red deer herd over the years, through periods of them being classified as pests to the present time when management from central government “is not far off”.

He said the exceptional size, length and symmetry of their mature antlers set them apart from other red deer.

He believes Oamaru has a unique place in the history of red deer in New Zealand after the Scottish aristocrat, the Earl of Dalhousie, donated red deer calves from wild, highland stock to the Otago Acclimatisation Society.

Following their capture and hand-rearing in Scotland, the calves were dispatched in two shipments to New Zealand, Mr Wilson said. The first eight were sent on the ship, the City of Dunedin, and six survived, arriving at Port Chalmers on January 21,1871. The remaining nine travelled aboard the Warrior Queen and arrived at Port Chalmers in good health a month later.

Early in March, these nine animals were loaded aboard the iron paddle-steamer, the Wallace, bound for Oamaru where a large crowd gathered at the harbour to witness the deer being transferred to bullock wagons belonging to John McClean of Morven Hills Station. Mr McClean had agreed to transport the animals and release them on to his property south of the Lindis Pass.

“No doubt the Honourable John McClean himself would have been present (at the harbour) and it is recorded that the animals spent their first night at his Redcastle residence north of Oamaru,” Mr Wilson said.

“Although at the time the significance of the trophy potential of the deer was not foreseen, the animals were eagerly anticipated.

“It is was widely known that unlike from where they had come, in the wilds of New Zealand they were to be available for hunting by all members of society.”

The deer quickly adjusted to their new environment and according to newspaper reports, Oamaru became the place to be for this new hunting resource.

“Over the next four-to-five decades, the Otago Highland Red Deer herd became the number one red deer trophy hunting area internationally,” Mr Wilson said.

“The trophy heads produced were numerous and of a type never previously thought possible.”

“The one exception being the painter, Sir Edward Landseer who, back in 1851, depicted imaginative super stags with wide balanced antlers never previously seen or thought possible.”

Business boomed in Oamaru as a result of the influx of overseas hunters, Mr Wilson said, and taxidermist FS Steffan shifted his business from Kurow to Oamaru and became the main handler of large quantities of exceptional trophy antlers.

While only a few examples of these trophies still exist around the district today, Mr Wilson said with deer management just around the corner, “we will hopefully see more of these great trophies and many of our young people will be able to enjoy a meaningful experience with these magnificent animals.”

By LINDA MCCARTHY

PHOTO: LINDA MCCARTHY

NEAR-PERFECT: Barry Wilson, patron of the North Otago branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association, pictured with one of the finest examples of an Otago highland red deer head.