Images of men appearing to aim air rifles at birds have been released as the Department of Conservation investigates the ''devastating'' and "senseless'' killing of five of the world's most endangered gulls.
Five black-billed seagulls were found dead at Rotorua's Sulphur Bay during a routine check by a Department of Conservation volunteer in mid-November last year. They are the most endangered seagulls in the world.
An x-ray of one of the birds found a BB bullet lodged in its breast.
The newly-released images of two men with firearms, appearing to be pointing them at the gulls, were taken from motion-detector cameras set up to monitor the colony and have been released in an effort to identify the pair. One of the images clearly shows one of the men's face.
Department of Conservation ranger Kevin Buttell said he set up the cameras at the protected breeding colony to record colony activity and any threats to the birds.
"One of our volunteers found five dead gulls on the Friday, which immediately rang some alarm bells," Buttell said.
Buttell who checked the footage after the deaths to find the cause said it was not the type of potential predator he thought they would see.
"What we can't abide is the senseless killing of our most threatened gull. It is absolutely devastating for us."
Buttell said he spent a lot of time asking around to find who and what allegedly killed the birds, and Hunting and Fishing helped him identify the rifle seen in the images.
The rifle, an airgun, was identified as a Crosman Pumpmaster 760, 177/BB.
"One of the individuals also had a handgun in his pocket, again identified as a Co2 powered BB pistol," Buttell said.
The cameras were temporarily installed to cover the December to January breeding period.
"They are pretty cool cameras and invaluable in cases like this. I actually got a few images of the suspects sitting on the camera boxes."
Rotorua police area prevention manager Inspector Brendon Keenan said police were investigating.
The photos had been circulated in an attempt to identify the men in the photos but had so far been unsuccessful. No arrests had been made.
"The likely charges would have been related to cruelty to animals, but also concerning was the discharging of the firearm."
Department of Conservation senior ranger of biodiversity Mariana Te Rangi said the alleged killing of animals by people was a preventable and unacceptable risk.
"These special birds are a taonga to Rotorua and are threatened with extinction.
"As the black-billed gull is the most endangered gull species on the planet, DoC is treating the incident seriously.
"We would like to hear from anyone who has information about the incident or can identify the men in the photographs."
It is an offence, under the Wildlife Act 1953, to disturb protected birds and destroy nests. Doing so can result in imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
Buttell said while there was a maximum penalty, he thought a restorative approach to justice was more beneficial.
"Namely they could come out and help clear the rubbish or help set up a trapping network."
In 2013, a man was jailed for driving a vehicle through colonies, destroying nests and killing chicks and adult birds.
Rotorua police are making inquiries and would like to hear from anyone who saw anyone acting suspiciously in the area on November 12, 2018 about 5pm.
About the Black-billed gull/tarāpuka
- The most threatened gull species in the world.
- Endemic to New Zealand.
- Like the Kākāpō, it is the stage before extinction: the current threat status was upgraded from Nationally Endangered to Nationally Critical in 2013. The same level as the Kākāpō.
- Breeding sites are mainly large braided riverbeds of the South Island but there are scattered colonies in Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa, as well as Lake Rotorua and Lake Taupō.
- Wide range of threats: cats and stoats, farm herbicides and pesticides, riverbed weeds forcing nests closer to the water, making them more vulnerable to flooding.
- Humans threats more common in recent years with vehicles and shooting.
- The birds are more slender than the red-billed gull, with a longer bill.
- There has not been a successful fledgling of chicks for six years from the Sulphur Point colony.
Report any information to DoC on 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 462)
Contact police on 07 349 9400 or provide information anonymously on 0800 555 111.