An examination shows the birds, which were discovered by DOC staff on the island sanctuary earlier this week, were killed by shotgun pellets.
DOC’s Northern Conservation Services Director Andrew Baucke says the discovery follows a pūkeko control operation last week involving experienced members of the local deerstalkers association.
Pūkeko is a common and aggressive species that can pose a serious threat to rarer native species and are occasionally culled to protect the chicks and eggs of high risk populations.
Andrew Baucke says DOC is currently talking to the deerstalkers involved in the culling operation and the association is co-operating fully with the inquiries.
He says pūkeko have very similar colouring to the flightless takahē and takahē may have been mistaken for pūkeko.
Andrew Baucke says DOC has engaged local deerstalkers on two previous successful pūkeko culling operations on the island in 2012 and 2013.
He says the hunters had been carefully briefed on how to differentiate between the flightless takahē and pūkeko, including instructions to only shoot birds on the wing.
Andrew Baucke says guidelines introduced after an incident on Mana Island seven years ago when another takahē was mistakenly shot during a pūkeko cull were also used during last week’s cull.
He says DOC has put a halt to any future operations to cull pūkeko near takahē populations while it conducts its investigation and a review of procedures for such operations.
Andrew Baucke says the deaths are deeply disappointing for DOC and the many groups, like the deerstalkers themselves, that actively work to support conservation initiatives.
- The takahē population is estimated to be around 300 birds. About 80 of these survive in the last wild population in the Murchison Mountains in Fiordland. The remainder are held at secure sanctuaries or on predator-free islands such as Motutapu Island. Prior to the shooting incident, Motutapu Island had a population of 21 takahe.
- DOC's works in partnership with Mitre 10 on the Takahē Recovery Programme which aims to have 125 genetically robust breeding pairs of takahē at secure sites by 2020. The programme produced almost 40 takahe chicks at secure sites in the last breeding season.
- Pūkeko are common throughout New Zealand and have the same protection status as introduced birds such as ducks and geese. They are classified as a game bird and can be legally shot.
- Pūkeko numbers have expanded rapidly on Motutapu Island and are estimated at well over a thousand birds. They pose a serious risk to chicks of other threatened species such as takahē, pateke and shore plover which have been introduced to the island sanctuary. Pūkeko can also cause substantial damage to replanting programmes.