Four rare takahē birds, part of a remaining population of only 300, were killed by hunters’ shotgun pellets on Motutapu Island, New Zealand last week.
The endangered birds, a native species of New Zealand, were shot by members of New Zealand Deerstalkers Association—which protects hunters’ rights—during a cull of a different, non-endangered bird, the pukeko. The dead birds were discovered by conservation staff from the Motutapu Restoration Trust, a volunteer organization focused on the restoration of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.
Deerstalkers Association president Bill O’Leary has publicly apologized, saying he was appalled by the incident and apologized to the conservation department and the nation at large, the Guardian reports. The department has put an official halt on the association’s cull.
Culling, the reduction of a population by selective slaughter, is not an unusual practice in New Zealand, nor a stigmatized one. The nation is known for culling invasive, non-native species, and O’Leary noted in his statement that the association frequently collaborates with the conservation department on these efforts throughout the country, Radio NZ reports.
There are now only 300 takahē total left in New Zealand, with 22 of them residing on the island. The bird are listed as nationally critical and were thought to be extinct before being rediscovered in 1948. Since then, the government’s conservation department has invested heavily in rebuilding the population, with a public-private sector partnership program that aimed to establish 125 breeding pairs by 2002, the Guardian reports.
The loss of the four birds amounts to a 5% decline in the birds’ wild population.