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New Zealand Authorities Hunt Penguin Kidnappers

New Zealand authorities are hunting a crew of potential penguin smugglers after a pair of the birds were snatched from their nests.

Two little blue penguins, often called fairy penguins in Australia, were taken this month near the North Island town of Napier, the Department of Conservation says.

Three thieves are thought to have prised rocks off the birds' burrow in the late-night raid before hooking them up by the neck, bundling them up and fleeing in a car.

But authorities say the death of another penguin nearby might point to a spate and a potential smuggling operation.

They are now appealing to the public, conducting interviews and trawling through camera footage to find the culprits.

"We are really concerned as we believe this might not be a one-off," DOC compliance officer Rod Hansen said.

"This is particularly disturbing as it is a very vulnerable time for these wee penguins. They moult from January through to March and stay in their burrows for protection."

Image: Google

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The miniature, nocturnal penguins, only about 30cm tall and weighing one kilogram, have been in decline on New Zealand's mainland due to predation and come ashore to nest.