WARNING - DISTURBING CONTENT: Dead shore birds have been found littered around a New Zealand car park the morning after three vehicles were filmed “hooning” around the area.
Extensive tyre marks and the bodies of around 30 protected red-billed gulls were found by a ranger, north of Dunedin on Saturday morning.
Fences and gates have been smashed, and empty beer bottles and a pair of tracksuit pants were also found discarded nearby.
Video shot at 8.00am on Saturday, shows the gravel surface of the Royal Albatross Centre car park and a nearby road scarred by vehicle tracks.
Birds lie lifeless along the road and gulls that survived the carnage can be seen flying around.
Hoons captured by CCTV cameras before gull deaths
Otago Peninsula Trust ecotourism manager Hoani Langsbury told Yahoo News Australia that hoons were captured on CCTV driving around the area for three hours and this footage was handed to police.
“The video shows a quad bike and two motor vehicles arrive at the colony at about 1am,” Mr Langsbury said.
“They proceeded to do donuts and generally hoon around until about 4.30 in the morning.
“During their activities they’ve managed to kill up to 30 red-billed gulls.”
More gull chicks found dead the next day
Staff worked to remove the gulls before tourists arrived that morning to enjoy the Waitangi Day long weekend.
Working to educate the public about the region’s unique birdlife, the gulls’ deaths have left Mr Lansbury and many of his guides distressed and frustrated.
Their sadness was compounded on Sunday morning after eight more gull chicks were found dead on the rock face only 50 metres from the car park.
“We’re all part of nature and we’ve got to keep it in balance,” Mr Lansbury said.
“The planet is struggling enough, let alone idiots going out and making our job more difficult.”
It is not the first time the area has been vandalised, with gates installed nearby to discourage visitors after dark wrecked once before.
The car park is a popular place for the young gulls to land each evening as it is the only large, level ground for them to congregate on.
With penguins and albatross also known to live in the area, any cars driving through the area at night, no matter their motivation, are a threat to the diverse ecosystem of birds.
Authorities investigating after 30 threatened gulls killed
Describing the deaths as “saddening” Craig Wilson from the Department of Conservation confirmed authorities are investigating.
He said gulls, which are a threatened species, play an important role in the ecosystem.
“Events like this are saddening and frustrating and show a lack of respect for te ao tūroa, the natural world,” Mr Wilson said.
“We will be looking into this to determine if a breach of the Wildlife Act has occurred and taking appropriate action.”
Conservation efforts in region stretch back decades
New Zealand’s red-billed gulls appear similar to Australia’s silver gull, and are now considered a subspecies.
They can live between 12 and 30 years of age, mate for life, and return to the same breeding ground each year to raise their young.
While red-billed gulls are numerous, they are registered by New Zealand authorities as being nationally vulnerable as their numbers are decreasing at an “alarming rate”.
Scientists believe the drop in numbers is primarily due to changes in ocean currents affecting the availability of food sources like krill.
The gulls at Taiaroa Head, where the car park was located, are the country’s only colony to have increased in size, growing from 1800 pairs to 2800 in recent years.
Conservation work dates back to 1938, and there have been ongoing efforts to reduce the impact of feral species like possums.
Over the last nine years, 19,800 possums, which were introduced from Australia have been eradicated from the area.
Since conservation work began, increases in ground nesting birds have been registered across the region.
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