Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Rare visitor fatally shot

Pelican found peppered with shotgun pellets by Waikato River

A pelican found shot dead on the banks of the Waikato River. Photo / Supplied
A pelican found shot dead on the banks of the Waikato River. Photo / Supplied

A pelican - one of only 20 believed to be in the country - has been found shot dead on the banks of the Waikato River.

Biosecurity contractor Philip Mabin, who found the dead bird, told the Herald on Sunday he could hardly believe his eyes when he spotted three rare pelicans on the banks of the river 10 days ago.

Te Papa vertebrates curator Colin Miskelly said the birds were probably part of a group of 18 that migrated to New Zealand from Australia last year. They have been seen almost exclusively in Northland.

But Mabin's joy turned to despair five days later when he found one of the birds lying dead, peppered with shotgun pellets.

Mabin spends most days working along the Waikato River, and he knows it's a dangerous place for birdlife.

"When I saw the pelicans, I thought they were running a big risk being on the river. There's injured birds out there all the time. If you're working on the river you get to see a lot of carcasses.

"But you'd have to be pretty dumb to do what [the shooter] did. I was sad and pissed off because I knew it couldn't be an accident. It's so different to any bird that you're allowed to shoot," Mabin, himself a recreational hunter, said.

He found the pelican, sex as yet unknown, curled up close to the river's edge about 1km upstream of the Rangiriri Bridge.

It looked like it was sleeping, but the multiple pellet wounds in its body told a different story, Mabin said.

"It had gone there to die, it didn't die straight away."

Pelicans have been seen in New Zealand just five times since 1890, and never in such large numbers, Miskelly said.

Department of Conservation Waikato conservancy spokesman Des Williams said pelicans were protected and the person responsible for the death could be prosecuted.

"Yes it is duck shooting season, but there are still many native species flying about our wetlands that are absolutely protected, and for good reason. Let's hope this incident serves as a timely reminder for all game-bird hunters about the need to positively identify their targets.

"It is particularly disappointing that such a rare visitor to our country should meet its end that way."

If you have information about the shooting, email:

- Herald on Sunday

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