By Taylor Hill | Takepart.com August 21, 2015
But authorities discovered the wrong birds had been killed when they found four dead takahe peppered with shotgun pellets on Monday.
“We weren’t formally notified; we actually found the birds when my team were out on the island checking the transmitters,” Andrew Baucke, the DOC’s conservation services director, told Radio New Zealand. “Each of the transmitters have a mortality function on them, so that’s how they picked up the dead birds.”
The department had hired experienced hunting members from the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association who were “carefully briefed” on how to differentiate between the two bird species, Baucke said in a statement.
Before the shooting, the island was home to 21 takahe. Most of the birds alive today survive in sanctuaries, with only about 70 or 80 remaining in the wild.
It’s not the first time the rare flightless birds have been mistaken for pukekos by hunters, as a similar bird cull seven years ago on Fiji’s Mana Island ended in a takahe shot.
Baucke said the deaths are “deeply disappointing” for the department, and Bill O’Leary, president of the Deerstalkers Association, said he is appalled by the incident.
“I share with the department a concern that the deaths will affect efforts to save an endangered species,” O’Leary said in a statement. “I apologize to the department and to the country at large.”
For now, all pukeko hunts are off, the department announced.
Pukekos, which can fly, number well over 1,000 on Motutapu Island, located 10 miles east of Auckland. Their arrival and expansion continues to threaten native birds like the takahe—a species that’s been slowly recovering since the birds once thought extinct were rediscovered on New Zealand’s South Island in 1948.
If pukeko numbers aren’t managed, they could overrun Motutapu—one of the sancturies established by the department’s takahe recovery program, which hopes to have 125 breeding pairs at secure sites by 2020.
Now, the New Zealand Herald is reporting the Maori people of New Zealand’s South Island are angry with the department’s conservation tactics.
“There’s no way that they would send their treasured takahe to a sanctuary for it to be slaughtered,” Rino Tirikatene, a member of the New Zealand parliament, told the Herald. “There are even calls for the return home of those birds. There is a lot of goodwill that goes with these gifts to improve the biodiversity, and to see that they’ve needlessly been bowled over by some deer hunters is just really disappointing.”