Sunday, June 16, 2024

DOC staff ‘horrified’ by decapitation of protected animals

Department of Conservation investigators say they are shocked and horrified by recent incidents in which protected native animals have been decapitated.

In one recent incident at Auckland’s Muriwai beach, a group of people filmed themselves riding a dead great white shark being towed behind a 4WD, before the animal’s severed head was worn by one of the individuals involved.

DOC investigated the group, after they shared the footage to social media, and issued two people involved with infringement notices.

Image supplied by DOC.

Other incidents recorded in the last 18 months have included the beheading of two different fur seals, a decapitated penguin and several red knots (migrant shorebirds) with their heads removed and their bodies left abandoned on beaches.

Dylan Swain, DOC’s Investigations Team Leader, says the incidents are grotesque and barbaric – and breach several pieces of conservation legislation DOC administers.

“Even a dead native animal is protected by the Wildlife Act, as we saw with the shark head case,” he says.

Advice from DOC science staff who’ve seen the images is the decapitations are the result of human actions – and not predation by another species.

Image supplied by DOC.

“In a couple of incidents, the heads of these animals have been removed with some sort of implement. There are no teeth or bite marks or signs the animals have been attacked by another species.”

Although DOC staff acknowledge some of the animals may have been discovered dead on the beach – there is still no acceptable justification for removing the animals’ heads.

“It’s not acceptable for people to tamper with deceased animals, and it’s illegal to remove a protected species’ head to have it as some sort of trophy.”

“If you find a dead native animal on a beach, please leave it alone and call 0800 DOC HOT, so our staff can attend.”

Anyone with information on the decapitation of protected native animals – whether it’s eye-witness reports of incidents, or other potentially valuable evidence – can also call 0800 DOC HOT, or email

DOC has a range of enforcement tools available for punishment of wildlife crimes, including fines, infringements or a prosecution through the courts which can lead to a jail sentence.

In recent weeks DOC has publicised other incidents of harm to seals and sea lions. In late August an unrestrained dog was seen with a young seal in its mouth on a Wellington beach, while a well-known adult female sea lion was shot dead near Dunedin.

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