Four critically endangered birds were killed by hunters in New Zealand this week. The takahē were mistakenly shot by deer stalkers carrying out a cull of a somewhat similar-looking bird, the pukeko. On 17 August, the dead birds were found by conservationists, who discovered the takahē had been shot with a shotgun.
The culpable shooters were contracted by the country’s Department of Conservation to carry out the cull of the non-endangered pukeko, a relative of the endangered bird. The birds look similar at first glance of a photograph, but the takahē is flightless while the pukeko is not – and is twice the size of its common cousin.
The takahē is native to New Zealand and is listed as nationally critical. Indeed, at one time it was thought to be extinct. The Department of Conservation has since invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in rebuilding the population.
There are now about 300 tahakē alive in New Zealand, but just 70-80 in the wild. The loss of the four dead birds discovered on Monday amounts to a 5 per cent decrease in the population – the equivalent to the loss of 160 tigers or 93 pandas.
The Department of Conservation website dispels suggestions that takahē are “just fat pukeko”, though they do look “similar”.
The department has put an immediate halt to the cull as it investigates both its internal processes and the program with the deerstalkers’ association.