The SPCA are calling for information after a mother cat and her kittens were found abandoned at the bottom of Mt Messenger in Taranaki.
Zoe the cat was found lying on a towel with her three newborn kittens, completely soaked through after a night of heavy rain.
Only one of the kittens, Fern, survived the ordeal, an SPCA spokeswoman said.
"A newborn kitten is particularly vulnerable to the elements and unfortunately one of the kittens had already died by the time they were found. One of the kittens was too weak and didn't survive. The last kitten, Fern, was found tucked into Zoe trying to feed despite the terrible cold."
The mother cat's uterus had prolapsed, meaning she was unable to move and help her kittens.
"By chance, our SPCA inspector's sister was in the area and spotted Zoe and Fern. She sprang into action, wrapped up Zoe and Fern to try and get them warm, and rushed them to SPCA."
Zoe underwent emergency surgery and Fern was put into foster care with another cat who had just given birth.
"Zoe is now back at our New Plymouth centre and is recovering well despite the traumatic ordeal she has been through. Once Zoe is fully healed, she will be ready to find a new forever home. Fern will be in our care for eight weeks until she is old enough to be desexed and microchipped. Then our team will be looking to find her a new family too."
Zoe had no collar and no chip but her temperament suggested she had a family.
"She is chatty, smoochy and loves affection. This, and the fact that she was found on top of a towel, leads our team to suspect that Zoe was dumped by her owner.
"Zoe and her kittens were left exposed to the elements, with no food or water, and nothing but each other for warmth. We are so thankful that Zoe and Fern were able to be saved in time but we are devastated that this has happened in the first place, and that two innocent kittens have died as a result."
SPCA is now appealing to the public for any information about Zoe and Fern that might help the investigation. All information provided will be treated as confidential.
If you have any information about Zoe and Fern, please call 06 758 2053.