16 Jan 2015

Police have sights on poachers

11:45 am on 16 January 2015

A campaign is underway on the West Coast to crack down on poaching and illegal hunting on the province's remote farms.

West Coast farmland backing on to native bush.

Much of West Coast farmland backs on to bush and is a prime location for deer. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Phelps

Hunting wild game such as deer in lush pastures backing on to the bush-cloaked foothills of the southern alps is popular on the West Coast.

"It's a prime location for deer" said Katie Milne, Federated Farmers West Coast President.

"Because we back on to a big reservoir of native bush and we've got some swampland around Lake Kangaroo, there does tend to be quite a lot of wild deer ... there's no shortage of vermin."

There is no shortage of poachers either, she said.

"It's well known to poachers that there are deer here. As with most farms on the Coast, there's plenty of area where deer can come out.

"I've had calves and heifers shot over the years ... if you're not very good at identifying your target, you've just got a brown thing with reflective eyes looking back down the scope at you."

Farmers say if people are sneaking around with lethal weapons, it's only a matter of time before someone is hurt.

Katie Milne said her partner had a spotlight shone on him has he was hunting wild deer that feed on the farm's pasture.

"That's really scary stuff, I mean, what do you do? Do you quickly put a light up yourself and shine it back, or do you hit the deck or what?

"Because if a light's on you, and you've got the new LED lights ... the light that reflects off them looks very similar to what a deer looks like when it's hit with a spotlight."

Poachers are breaking the law, but Katie Milne said given how remote some farms a were, it was difficult to catch and convict them. And the closest police station to her farm was a solid 40 minute drive away.

Police say the more eyes on the lookout for suspicious vehicles and dodgy characters, the better.

John Canning, area commander for the West Coast police district, said about half a dozen people had been convicted for poaching-related offences in the past year.

"To catch more people, crime needs to be reported," he said.

"What we're trying to do is lift the profile of the offending, so people are more aware of it. Next year, in March or April, coming into the roar, that's when we get a lot of it.

"If we can have the awareness up by then, perhaps we'll be able to make a bit more headway than what we've made this year.

Gernot Uhlig says he always gets permission from farmers before hunting.

Gernot Uhlig says he always gets permission from farmers before hunting. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Phelps

"Most people don't realise under the Wild Animal Control Act, there are some fairly hefty penalties. The vehicle they're in, the firearm they are using, all the gear they've got, could all be seized."

Hokitika hunter Gernot Uhlig said he always asked for permission from farmers before hunting.

"I wouldn't like somebody just going into my garden and do anything there without asking me. If I shoot somewhere the usual arrangement is 'half the venison for you, half the venison for me'," said Mr Uhlig.

"There should be no risk to livestock and humans if people are being responsible and identifying their targets," he said, but conceded poachers may not be so cautious.

"It's possible if someone is spotlighting they may miss their target and the stray bullet could go towards the farmer's house. The beam of the spotlight may show 200 yards, but the bullet can go 10 times that distance or more. That's one of the main reasons I don't do spotlighting myself."

Contract milker Hayden Sowman said people spotlight for deer without permission and he suspects some livestock have been shot and stolen.

"In the last six months we've lost five cows, and I put that down to poaching, I really do. I don't think they've gone bush, because there's just no sign of them."

One of his neighbours has a bad time with people spotlighting deer, but not much can be done about it.

"By the time the police get out here the people'd be long gone, so what do you do about it?"

Police say farmers can form rural networks, and report details of anything suspicious, including plate numbers, and descriptions of cars.

Ms Milne said farmers need to more active in reporting poaching, so police know about it, to put an end to the risk.

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