If you have recently entered the Kepler Track via the Control Gates, you might have noticed that the lower branches of the tutu trees around those clearings have no leaves left on them. What is going on here? When you look among the grass around the tutu trees, you often find a clue in the form of some poo... the culprit of all this browsing is the red deer (Cervus elaphus).
New Zealand evolved without native grazing mammals. Land mammals, apart from the native bats, have been introduced by humans.
Deer were imported and released here from 1851 and have changed the forests and plant communities from the alpine regions to the lowlands dramatically ever since. Their favourite foods include: three-finger, five-finger, lancewood, hen and chicken fern, broadleaf, māhoe, patē and high-altitude and subalpine shrubs like stinkwood.
Deer threaten the health of New Zealand native ecosystems, including the beech forest. However, they are also keenly hunted for recreation and commercially harvested for venison. Because they are valued for hunting and meat production, management is required to minimise their negative impacts on local ecosystems.
Deer, antelopes, pigs, giraffes, camels, cattle… hippos (and whales, hippos’ closest relatives) belong to the same large group: cetartiodactyla.
They are all even-toed hoofed mammals. Their third and fourth toes equally carry their weight. Horses are odd-toed hoofed mammals, as their weight is mainly carried by their third toe.
Can you find out the difference between antlers and horns?