Wellington, January 30: Three little blue penguins have been stolen from their burrow in New Zealand. One of the penguins died in the process and was left behind, but two were taken away, conservation officials said.
Two men were seen using a crowbar to prise rocks off the burrow of the smallest breed of penguin, in Hawkes Bay. They then hooked the birds out by their neck, the BBC reported.
The theft was carried out January 24 night. The Department of Conservation (DOC) said they received reports of the two seen digging while a woman held a torch. Two Humboldt Penguins in Nottinghamshire Missing for Two Months Return to the Zoo; Thanks to Kind Cops.
It was not clear where the birds were taken to and the suspects have not yet been identified. The DOC said the theft was "particularly disturbing".
Little blue penguins, which typically measure just over 25cm tall and weigh around 1kg, have a population that is declining in New Zealand and anyone found committing offences might be jailed up to two years and fined up to $68,500.
They are a protected species in New Zealand. Authorities believe the thefts might be an indication of a smuggling operation.
"We are really concerned as we believe this might not be a one off," said DOC's Hawkes Bay Compliance Officer Rod Hansen. "The very next day another penguin was found dead floating nearby and it appears to have died from a head injury," he added.
"It is a very vulnerable time for these wee penguins. They moult from January through to March and stay in their burrows for protection... (this) further suggests the poachers knew exactly when best to target the birds," The BBC quoted Hansen as saying.