Heartbreak, horror as feral dogs slaughter stock in Far North

Packs of feral dogs are sowing horror and heartbreak on a Far North farm where a killing spree is entering its seventh day.

Distraught workers at the farm, just south of Cape Rēinga, are almost powerless to stop the attacks despite being on guard day and night since last Wednesday.

As of Monday the toll stood at more than 120 stock.

That includes about 25 ewes, more than 60 lambs, and 36 goats from a teenage girl’s Angora herd. Another 30 sheep have been mauled but are still alive.

Many lambs have been orphaned and are now being hand-reared by local volunteers.

The dogs may be from the same feral packs that forced the closure of a campground and several tracks in Te Paki Recreation Reserve earlier this year.

The attacks are occurring on Shenstone Farm, on either side of State Highway 1 just south of the Department of Conservation-administered reserve, about 90km north of Kaitaia.

Anne-Marie Nilsson, who runs the farm with husband John, said stock worrying was nothing new but it stepped up a gear last Wednesday, most likely due to the arrival of lambs.

As well as the 60-plus lambs killed another 25 had been orphaned.

Nilsson said she was too busy protecting stock to hand-rear them so she had farmed them out around the community.

She had to put some down because their injuries, such as broken backs, were too severe.
Very few had been eaten so it appeared they were being killed ”for fun”.

It was difficult for their daughter Amy, 15, who had so far lost 36 of the 150-strong herd of Angora goats she was raising for fibre.

”It breaks my heart. It’s harrowing, you get nightmares. Amy’s having to deal with something she’s never had to deal with before, and it’s brutal because it’s ongoing.”

The farm’s mainstay was cattle and Nilsson worried what would happen when calving started in about three weeks’ time.

By Saturday night everyone else was so exhausted she stayed up all night on vigil with her daughter, going about 40 hours without sleep.

”We’re all strung out and tired. We keep bringing stock closer in but that means they’re running out of grass. It’s a horrible balancing act.”

On Sunday night dogs came right up to the sheepyards but a worker on guard all night didn’t see them through the rain.

Her husband had bought a second rifle with a thermal scope for night shooting.

The dogs stalking Shenstone Farm appeared to be in two packs of five and six.

Nilsson said 30 feral dogs had been shot in the area since Christmas and was at a loss why there were suddenly so many.

They were not just wandering neighbourhood pets or escaped pig dogs but ”proper feral dogs”.

”They’re vicious, they’ve packed up, they’re people-savvy, wily and gun-shy.”

She wanted DOC and the Far North District Council to lay poison, something the farm was not licensed to do.

The council’s district services general manager, Dean Myburgh, said the animal management team responded as soon as possible to reports of roaming dogs or attacks on stock.

However, the council did not have any reports recorded of recent attacks in the Te Paki area.

”Where reports are made, animal management officers will investigate and prosecute dog owners and destroy dogs involved. Unfortunately, attacks on stock often occur at night or in remote areas, making the identification of dogs very difficult,” he said.

”While we share the anger and distress stock owners feel when attacks like these occur, the council must follow the law. Our staff cannot destroy dogs without proof they have been directly involved in attacks, even where it appears that the dogs are stray.”

Myburgh said farmers had the legal right to shoot dogs on their land and the council supported them doing so to protect stock.

Nilsson told the Advocate she had tried to report the attacks by calling the council’s 0800 number but was told to drive to Kaitaia and fill in a form.

The situation on the farm meant she was unable to drive almost 200km to file a report.

DOC closed a campground and several tracks in Te Paki Reserve on April 1 after receiving reports of a hunter being encircled and threatened by dogs, a horse rider chased through Aupouri Forest, and dogs rifling through a campsite at night.

Staff put up trailcams, set traps and carried out patrols but found no trace of the dogs. The tracks reopened in early May.

Kaitaia operations manager Meirene Hardy-Birch said DOC was not aware of the recent stock deaths until contacted by the Advocate.

Under the Dog Control Act the district council had responsibility for dog control. She urged the farmer to report the attacks to the council by calling 0800 920 029.

Hardy-Birch said any information that could be provided, such as GPS coordinates and photos of the dogs, would be helpful.

She said DOC had been monitoring conservation land with track inspections and trail cameras but had not seen any dogs.

”It’s important to note that DOC is just one of many land owners in the Far North and we can only monitor and be responsible for our tracks, which we do by trail cameras and monitoring, and we have no evidence of feral dogs.”

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