Selfie hunters posing with little blue penguins in Napier could face a $100,000 fine if caught.
Department of Conservation ranger Chris Wootton told Checkpoint it was disturbing that people were pestering and potentially hurting the birds during nesting season.
"People have been picking up penguins and taking selfies, posting them on social media. It's illegal behaviour under the Wildlife Act, penguins or kororā, little blue penguins, are totally protected wildlife.
"If you're disturbing them, especially during breeding season, you're wrecking their chance of reproducing and bringing up their young safely on the nest."
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With more people heading to the coast as summer approaches, they needed to be aware they were sharing the space with all sorts of wildlife, Wootton said.
"You could do physical harm to the bird just by rough handling of them. Our message to people is just leave wildlife well alone, give them space, if you want to take a photo take it from some distance away."
DoC is encouraging the public to report any such incidents so it can follow them up.
"It is idiotic behaviour, you've got to wonder what planet these people are on. They're living in a Disney cartoon perhaps to think this is appropriate behaviour.
"I think it's just a degree of selfishness and symptomatic of the social media world that everyone is pretty much a part of these days."
Wootton warned selfie-takers there were several risks associated with the committing the offence, including potentially being nipped by the animal so badly you could lose part of your finger or eye.
"They've got pretty strong beaks - the adults. If you are picking up chicks out of nests, then they may be infected with parasites, so you'd be getting perhaps a dose of fleas of you insist on doing that."