Despite now leading the world in deer farming and research, deer are not native to New Zealand. The first deer were imported from England and Scotland in the mid to late 19th century by European settlers for sport. Initially they were released mainly in the the South Island’s Southern Alps and high country.
The deer thrived in their new environment, and by the start of the 20th century they had spread widely thought the country and in the 1920’s the government began employing cullers to control their numbers despite deer hunting (or deer stalking as it’s known) being a popular sport.
By the 1960’s the pest had become an export earner, making it economical to hunt and bring the deer out of the mountains by helicopter. Industry pioneers saw this as an opportunity and by the 1970’s people began capturing live deer from the wild and farming them.
These hardy trailblazers initially captured the deer by simply leaping out of choppers and grabbing them! Subsequently specially modified guns were developed to fire a net over the deer, or alternatively they were tranquillised with dart guns.
The first deer farming license was issued in 1970 and since that time the New Zealand deer industry has gone from strength to strength. The growth of deer farming was initially driven by an export demand for the very high quality meat (venison), but with an increasing demand for velvet antler from Asia, Korean buyers and doctors of traditional medicine were invited to New Zealand to inspect the farms.
The visitors were impressed with the clean and natural environment in which the deer were thriving, and in turn the fledgling NZ industry became exposed to an ancient tradition and philosophy of health, and found themselves at the forefront of Western scientific research into the efficacy of one of Oriental medicine’s oldest and most valuable remedies.
In the late 1990s, driven by low commodity prices in Asia, the NZ Deer Industry decided to pursue the Western dietary supplements market to develop a new deer velvet export market. It became clear that this market could not rely on traditional knowledge of efficacy and quality but rather would require scientific evidence to persuade new prospective consumers of its benefits. The main thrust of the Velvet Antler Research NZ (VARNZ) programme since the late 1990s has been to develop this scientific knowledge. In addition, work has been done on breeding and nutrition to improve velvet quality.
Research support for new uses and improved production of deer velvet - J.M. Suttie, S.R. Haines, D.E. Clark, J.A. Archer, M. O’connor1, C.E. Broeder2 And I.D. Corson
From that time to the present, the New Zealand industry has invested millions of dollars to continually improve the genetics and quality of it’s herds, and is now the world’s largest exporter of deer products, as well as being acknowledged as a world leader in deer research.
It has also built a reputation for producing the finest deer velvet available. In research carried out at the lnvermay Research Centre in Otago, scientists compared the composition of New Zealand Red Deer Antler Velvet with the velvet traditionally regarded as the world's best from Russia and China, and while the mineral content was similar, the lipid content (the most valuable and bioactive constituents of the velvet) was significantly greater in the New Zealand Red Deer Antler Velvet.
The NZ velvet industry has grown from 443 tonnes - worth $26 million in 2008/09, to a 603 tonne industry worth $75 m in 2015/16.
Currently the main markets for high-quality New Zealand deer antler velvet are Asia - mainly Korea, China, Japan & Singapore, but increasingly consumers in Western countries are discovering the wide-ranging health benefits, particularly the use of deer velvet for athletic performance and recovery, along with it's value as a natural and effective alternative to drugs for the treatment of arthritis, joint pain, and osteoporosis.
Demand continues to grow worldwide as Oriental Medicine doctors and consumers in both the East and West increasingly understand the advantages of New Zealand deer antler velvet, which are:
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