About the Author

Avatar photo

Dr Muriel Newman

Threatening the Kereru

Print Friendly and PDF
Posted on

Wood pigeon

If there’s one thing that unites New Zealanders it is a love of nature and our natural environment. It explains why hundreds of thousands of Kiwis spend so much time and money planting trees, flowers and shrubs to create habitats for native birds.

Even small gardens can attract a large variety of native birds – especially over winter – and many will travel considerable distances to search out their preferred food.

Some established gardens may be lucky enough to have puriri trees, whose flowers and berries are a favourite of tuis, bellbirds and of course wood pigeons.

In fact, since the extinction of the moa, the native wood pigeon is the only bird in our native forests that is capable of swallowing fruit with a diameter larger than 12mm and dispersing the seeds whole, to help regeneration. Native trees such as the karaka, taraire, tawa, miro and puriri depend on the kereru to carry their seeds to new areas of the forest.

While wood pigeons can live between 15 and 20 years, in some parts of the country the average lifespan is said to be only one to five years. In those cases, the biggest threats to the birds are injuries, habitat loss, predation and illegal hunting.

In spite of being a protected species, poaching kereru seems to be big business. Iwi leader Sonny Tau, the chairman of Ngapuhi, was caught trying to smuggle five dead wood pigeons onto a plane from Invercargill to Northland last month. His behaviour caused widespread public anger – and fear that his actions might be dismissed as a “customary practice” or that the Department of Conservation might decide not to press charges against someone of his privileged status.

The level of outrage was similar to that seen last year, when it looked like the Maori King’s son was going to be let off charges of burglary, theft, and drink driving, because of his status. In that case, the presiding Judge Philippa Cunningham, had justified her decision to discharge 19-year old Korotangi Paki without conviction by claiming that while the drink driving was ‘moderately’ serious (his breath test reading was more than five times over the youth limit) the direct and indirect consequences of a conviction were “out of all proportion” to the offence, since any conviction for criminal offending would render him ineligible to be king.

At the time, Tuku Morgan, the Maori King’s representative, called the judgement a victory for Maori: “I think that is a recognition of the uniqueness of this country. Maori tikanga, Maori culture has been recognised today by a very senior court.”

But the public disagreed – as did Crown Law, which successfully appealed the decision in the High Court late last year, resulting in the Maori King’s son now having a drink driving conviction against his name. In this case, the Crown held true to the principle that no-one is above the law.

Over recent years tribal leaders have been aggressively advancing their claims that Maori and the Crown are Treaty partners and that they are the guardians of New Zealand’s natural resources. No doubt they hope that if they say it loudly and often enough, it will become the accepted wisdom and deliver them the privileged status they seek. But not only is it constitutionally impossible for the Crown to become a partner with its subjects, but in reality, it is the exploitation of tribal leaders that poses the real threat to New Zealand’s natural environment.

Who doesn’t believe that money was a motivation behind their demands for the guardianship of Ninety Mile Beach, when in December last year the issue of charging commercial operators for using the beach was raised? And who does not believe successful foreshore and seabed claims will not lead to levies on those who make their living from the area – or to potential mining activities? Who does not believe that the progressive banning of private vehicles from the now iwi-controlled volcanic cones in Auckland will not one day lead to a commercial pay-back? Or that the iwi ownership of lakes and rivers and parks will not lead to the charging of commercial users – after all it’s already occurring in Lake Taupo and Lake Ellesmere…

None of this is about guardianship, it’s about money.

In the case of Sonny Tau and the five dead wood pigeons, the Department of Conservation has advised that two charges have been laid against him in the Invercargill District Court under the Wildlife Act in relation to the killing and possession of protected New Zealand native wood pigeons. The charges will be read in the Invercargill District Court on July 24.

Section 67A of the Wildlife Act states that every person who commits an offence, which relates to “hunting, killing, buying, or selling absolutely protected wildlife” or “receiving absolutely protected wildlife taken without authority” is liable on conviction to “imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding $100,000, or both”.

It will be interesting to discover whether Mr Tau is also being charged with offences relating to the transportation of wildlife since section 62 of the Act says that, “No person shall consign or send by any carrier or forwarding agent or by any other means any parcel, package, case, bag, luggage, or other container containing any absolutely protected wildlife (whether alive or dead)… unless the parcel, package, case, bag, luggage, or other container is plainly marked on the outside in such a manner as to give a list and description of the contents and the name and address of the consignor and consignee.”

Given that Mr Tau was concealing the pigeons under his jacket it is probably fair to assume they were neither labelled with a description, nor with the name and address of the consignor or consignee!

The full protection of the New Zealand native wood pigeon occurred in 1922 when the Animal Protection and Game Act was passed by Parliament. A report produced by James Feldman for the Waitangi Tribunal in 2001, Treaty Rights and Pigeon Poaching, outlines the tortuous path taken from open slather to full protection and explains how “The Department of Internal Affairs implemented a policy that denied Maori special access to the bird and disallowed claims that the Treaty of Waitangi guaranteed hunting rights”. The report notes, “The question of how to enforce the prohibition on the hunting of kereru created a whole new set of problems for Internal Affairs, however, and Maori hunting of kereru did not end in 1922.”

In other words, while the right of Maori to kill the kereru was well and truly addressed by Parliament almost 100 years ago, the exploitation continues.

A recent article by Rotorua District Councillor Merepeka Rukawa Tait in support of her late husband’s pigeon poaching confirms this: “Theo’s older family members would have known the birds were protected by law. They didn’t make a big song and dance about it, just ignored it. They were not about to be told that they could no longer shoot and eat kereru. So Theo kept shooting… Continuing the practice he had been taught. Before going into the bush to shoot kereru, prayers would be said… After a while, I got used to having kereru in the deep freeze. Theo during his time continued a practice that had been going on for over 100 years.”

However, figures obtained by the Northern Advocate from the Department of Conservation show a disturbing trend. While there have been 47 convictions for killing or possessing kereru in Northland since the Department was established in 1987, with 15 since 1998, there have been no prosecutions since 2007.

If the lack of prosecutions is because kereru are no longer being poached, it would be a great outcome. But unfortunately that is not the case. The reality is that the Department of Conservation now appears to be turning a blind eye to the problem. This was admitted by the Chairman of the Northland Conservation Board, Mita Harris, who said that hunting protected wood pigeons is an ‘annual problem’: “There are people getting away with it. I mean I could take you into the forest and show you shooting spots, you’ll find a stash of feathers on the ground.”

It is simply not good enough that the government’s guardians of a protected species are not doing their job.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator is David Round, a lecturer in law at Canterbury University and author of Truth or Treaty? Commonsense questions about the Treaty of Waitangi. As a keen conservationist, David is extremely concerned about the implications of an iwi leader getting away with killing native pigeons. He believes it would set a disastrous precedent, which would result in an “open slather” on pigeons. He says it is time that section 4 of the Conservation Act, which he thinks could be used by Sonny Tau to defend his actions, was repealed:

“I imagine that Tau’s defence might involve a claim that pigeon are a ‘traditional food’, and perhaps that section 4 of the Conservation Act 1987, which says that ‘This act shall so be interpreted and administered as to give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi’, justifies his actions.”

“A traditional food? Undoubtedly. Just like kiwi, kaka, penguin, woodhen (weka), tui, kakapo, albatross.  Just like moa, for that matter. I leave you to recall the fate of our eleven species of moa. Just like whitebait, paua, crayfish, mussels, every sea and river fish; just like seals and dolphins. Sir Tipene O’Regan, indeed, has called for the ‘harvesting’ of fur seals, as well as saying that the only reason for protecting pigeons now is to enable numbers to increase to the point where they can be eaten again. Not a very spiritual attitude, I’d have thought…

“What about Tau’s ‘section 4 defence’; that somehow ‘Treaty principles’ entitle him to flout the laws that bind everyone else? He is of course being charged under the Wildlife Act, not the Conservation Act, but the courts have chosen to hold that section 4 of the Conservation Act applies not just to the Conservation Act itself but to every other Act the Department administers, even if that other Act has its own differently-worded Treaty section! But even so, section 4 only allows Treaty principles to be used in interpreting statutes. Section 4 does not override statutes. It does not say that a part of a statute is invalid because it (allegedly) breaches ‘Treaty principles’. It just says that if there is wiggle room ~ if a statute is capable of more than one meaning ~ then section 4 will  be wheeled in to produce the interpretation more in line with ‘Treaty principles’. But I cannot see that there is any wiggle room here.”

The Sonny Tau matter is a revealing indictment on the status of Maori as guardians. Quite simple, Maori leaders like Sonny Tau should not be entrusted with the privilege and responsibility. And if section 4 of the Conservation Act is being used as an excuse to flout the law and kill a highly popular protected bird, then it should be repealed as a matter of urgency.

That poachers are getting away with killing these birds is a national disgrace. Those killing them should be severely punished, regardless of ancestry – anything less is totally unacceptable. And if the Department of Conservation is turning a blind eye, then it too should be held to account.



Should section 4 of the Conservation Act be repealed?    

Vote x 120

 *Poll comments are posted below.


*All NZCPR poll results can be seen in the Archive.


Click to view x 120


Sonny Tau suffers from arrogant entitlement, irresponsible & destructive behaviour with no remorse or guilt. He is a criminal, certainly no guardian, and needs to be prosecuted as such. Monica
Conservation law should apply equally to all citizens. John
Just what do we expect from our hypocritical natives. What race features prominently on the TV program dealing with the work of Fisheries Protection when filming the apprehension of plunderers of undersized Paua and snapper. That’s right. Maori. Ronmac
The bigger they come the harder they fall – and I’m not referring to the Kereru. Dave
Absolutely, no question about it. Raymond
They killed the Moa to extinction so why not the Kereru?? There are Maori who have lax attitudes. Laurie
Every clause in every Act that enables maori to endanger any species should be revisited, as should all and every part of the law that enables them to look upon themselves as “different’ and able to break laws with impunity because of race. Don
One people one law certain people need to get the vibrator out of there rear end nobody is better than everyone else no matter what skin colour. John
Another example of what could be reverse racism with Maori not abiding by the law of the country. David
I am sick of treaty this and treaty that being used to excuse illegal acts. Time to knock it on the head. Neil
Leave the poor birds alone before they go the same way as the Moa! Theodorus
1 Law for all – Tau should be prosecuted. Nigel
Yes, along with the divisive and ridiculous additions and “principles” written into the revised, 1970s version of the Treaty of Waitangi, which has the potential to destroy this country. Les
Enough of our native birds are now extinct due to no conservation earlier by Maori who killed without no thought for future generations! June
No special privileges for a any racial group. Anthony
Too many damn regulations already. Alan
No excuses hit Sonny hard send a message to all Maori nobody is above the Law. Ken
Should we not also repeal any other statute or act which includes the get out phrase “subject to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”or some such nonsense. Irvine
One law for all New Zealanders with no racist loopholes for the few “gimme gimmee’s” We have a wonderful country, being held back by an ancient outdated, out of touch document, being used to divide the population. Be united .. Be proud .. Be KIWI. Kabe
There are no exceptions. David
We can’t have anything that may enable some people who hide behind some claim to have some Maori blood to flaunt the law.That sort of racial defence is going to cause real problems.For too long the vast majority of Maori people who are fine members of our society have been sitting back and letting the few radicals tarnish their image.I believe that in a lot of cases it is a case of “if we ignore it there may be something in it for me”. Our wonderful country is drifting into racial disharmony. Brian
One law for all New Zealanders. Wayne
This sort of rubbish is becoming far too common. Keith
I am sick to death of DOC in Northland ignoring the killing of native pigeons, closing their eyes to massive exploitation of excess & undersized fish and shellfish in Northland which has been going on openly up here for years. DOC up here is known locally as the “other” Dept Of Maori Affairs and support of everything Maori & Treaty Of Waitangi . Meanwhile we are working our butts off protecting kiwi and other native birds while DOC does nothing because they say they have no money. Ross
Maori are subjects who must obey the Law of the Land. No exceptions, no pitiful whining excuses. I hope the Law gives Sonny Tau a figurative hefty kick up his ample backside, leaving absolutely no doubt that Maori are not fit to be given the responsibility of guardians of anything, especially not of seafood or wildlife. They have repeatedly shown themselves to be thoroughly dishonest and irresponsible in regards to such matters as conservation and the protection of fauna and flora. Dianna
Tau should also lose all of his current positions in the Iwi. and Treaty negotiations. David
The whole treaty of waitangi should be scrapped. Mike
The only principal that needs to be upheld is that all New Zealanders, and those person permitted to live in our land, should be subject to the same laws. Michael
I suspect the shooting of kereru has been going on for some time. 30yrs ago I was in Hokitika and was told that 20 wood pidgeons had been shot for a wedding. The groom was Maori, the bride was Pakeha, she would not pluck or process them so consequently they were thrown away. Sheena
This constant use of the TOW, to dodge the issues and suck up to some maori is obnoxious. Denis
They get away with far too much. one law for all. Dona
If New Zealand is ever going to be united as a single country, it has to be repealed. It is long overdue that special rights to Maoris should be stopped. This is reverse apartheid. We lost the moa, we lost the huia. There is NO excuse for anyone flaunting the laws. If Maori truly respected their environment they would appreciate the need to abandon these racially predjudiced practices. Peter
The law of the country should apply to all who reside or are here as visitors. John
The law must apply to all people in NZ. Clive
When will the Treaty finally become the historic document as it was intended, and not the all-empowering maori bible? Maurice
NO Alan
There needs to be a stronger law in place of section 4. The days of killing these lovely birds have long gone. That time was in the past. It is now 2015 and times have change and time for people to grow up and look at what they are doing. Maori always think they have a right. Those day have gone. Robert
Sick and tired of Maori this and that about time they accepted they are new zealanders regardless of race and colour. Chris
We New Zealanders should be governed by a single rule of law applied to all equally and fairly. John
One law for all. Lew
Yes of course section 4 should be repealed BUT it won’t. Why? because no-one in the current government or prospective Labour led government has the moral fortitude to end the special privileges of the so called Maori minority under NZ’s APARTHEID regime. Geoff
One people. Randall
Maori kept away with flouting the law far too much! Bruce
Another example of misinterpretation of the ‘ principles of the TOW. But before we endulge into another tiny aspect of our dilemma with the TOW, let us look at what’ treaty ‘and ‘partnership’ and the word ‘principle ‘actually means.Treaty means an agreement between two parties .Partnership means relationship between two people or organisations in a business venture .Principle means a moral rule guiding personal conduct.Looking at theTOW: Our Govt is supposed to look after every bodies interest in regards to this TOW. But actually the contrary is happening. All actions taken by our Govt’s so far have been one sided and have acted only to satisfy Maori demands without any consideration how this would affect the Non Maori population ( ie the majority) of this country. We obviously cannot see the proper execution of a treaty here. ‘ Treaty ” by definition is actually not existing since we – the other party in this Treaty- are not even considered. Second. A Partnership is nonexistent either since all decisions and resulting actions (decided upon without consultation of all Non Maori) do benefit one partner only. Thirdly: No principles!! I cannot see where the morality lies in favouring one partner only and leaving the other partner ( ie u- the majority) high and dry. The execution of this TOW is immoral. deceitful and unconstitutional!! In short: Considering all breaches of contract above —A perfect case to be brought before the High Court in the name of all Non Maori citizens and permanent residents of NZ. The only question is :who would be able to organize this legal action against this TOW. Certainly not our Govt. They are too PC corrupted and indoctrinated and therefore utterly useless to us. This kind of legal action ( class action per se) is the only way to fight this mess we are in. Maoris give us a prime example here. They run to the High Court for every little snippet of perceived injustice and they get their day in Court. ( Must wonder who is paying for all this– Take a guess)Think about it!! Opponents of this TOW are numerous and could be able to raise funds to start legal proceedings against the Govt of NZ Also this case should be brought to the UN as well to expose the injustice done to Us. Michael
One law for all, maoris INCLUDED ! David
But lets start with prosecuting Sonny Tau and any other person who kill Kereru! Brian
One law for all, enough of the separation! Steve
One law for all New Zealanders regardless of ethnicity; after all its the birds we are keen to protect not some sort of outmoded “cultural” act. Eric
We stole their land. Henry
I am a volunteer worker for forest and Bird. This is ridiculous nonsense and I will protest most vigorously if a conviction that full is not carried out. Andrew
Yes – particularly since no-one seems to know what these Principles are anyway. This in turn allows the Brown Parasites to use any interpretation that suits their purposes whenever they choose. If that Ngapuhi clown gets away with such a blatant breach of the law, then one could be forgiven for losing all hope for the future of our once proud country. Scott
Typical The law doesn’t mean anything to our cousins they just do what they want and to hell with the consequences. Tony
Yes, get quit of it and whilst about it get rid of the dreamed up, so called ‘Principals of the Treaty of Waitangi”. By the way, the Treaty was a merger between two peoples, never a partnership!. Eric
One rule for all…enough said! Brian
Please do not let this barbaric race continue their dispicable behaviour without due punishment. They have it too good for far too long and should no longer be feared, but be beaten. Mollie
Repeal all legislation which enshrines the principles of the Treaty (whatever they are) into our law. Wah
Time to draw a line in the sand on the Treaty nonsense once and for all. One country with the same law for all citizens regardless of race or political status. Alan
Sec 4 Should never have been put into the legislation in the first place. Richard
In the bush you see magpies not kereru in the trees that was 10 years ago in the Tarawera valley. George
It is only natural that it should be repealed! Laurence
Enough of rights for one certain race,the law applies to every new Zealander and the full force of it should be applied to sonny tau and any other person caught in the future. Richard
I know many Maori who shoot eat these birds, been going on for years, they say it is their right. Ned
The national newspapers need to be held to task for basically ignoring the ever growing accession to Maori claims. Here in Hawkes Bay it feels as though we are being used as a prototype for Maori rule. Attempts to rename our airport, pressure to force through the unpopular merging of councils and the creation of unelected Maori on all local boards. Russell
An abuse of the law must not be tolerated for any reason. Racial privileges undermine the structure of our country and causes a “them”and “us” situation which is highly divisive. Brian
Make it tougher and hit the law breakers really hard with no excuses both “Maori” and others.. Rog
Absolutely. Maorts are the biggest group of offenders. I just wish our politicians would stand up to all this maori bullshit. Peter
I”ve had it up to HERE with all these apartheid-like interpretations of the Law. Why don’t we have one law for all, and stick to it? And I am not referring only to the Conserv. Act. My compliments to all those who have pushed for these “differences” for decades; you’ve done a magnificent job of splitting this country right down the middle. Mags
One law for everyone. Sue
It is an absolute disgrace to think anyone would want to kill these beautiful birds maybe there should be an open season on Maori. John
Throw the book’ at him, he deserves nothing less. Barry
Any legislation that gives privilege not available to the rest of the population to a separate group of people or a loop hole through which the law can be flouted must be repealed. Martin
Why shouldn’t he be prosecuted? Bill
Even if Tau is held as the tower of strength knowledge and standing by Maoris, he should be subjected to the toe of all caring kiwis and if a prison sentence is available then use it and prove that there is one law for all, New Zealanders. Chris
The treaty is not about partnership it was to grant them the SAME rights as all British subjects. Mike
Let’s get down to one law that applies to everybody, not one with exceptions for Maori. There are too many in the system now. Albie
The Kereru is a lovely native bird & should not be killed as there are dwindling numbers & in saying that there should not be one law for one & another for anyone else. Tony
Anything that stopped Maori or any body else getting special privileges should be removed forthwith. Colin
Are we one people or is certain people worth more. Garry
By all means repeal it and any other race based law. We are all one people. Clark
Tighten the law to ensure it applies to EVERYONE with no exclusions for any reason.Otherwise the rest of us are protecting the birds for a few to eat. How is that democratic? It is time all Maori/part Maori became New Zealanders like the rest of us,not just as and when convenient. Judith
This section of the act should be repealed along with any other law which gives maori anything but equal rights with every other New Zealander. Mike
Nobody should have the right to kill any of our native birds, what the hell do they mean by ‘traditional foods’? Carolyn
Am so tired of our [Pakeha educated] “brown brothers” using the Treaty of Waitangi to justify braking our NZ laws – on every they think they have the right to have or do. Elayne
Yes, section 4 should go together with all the other race-based legislation, and most of all the treaty. Athol
IT is endless the Maori takeover of New Zealand Law and the fact it is lying and about money. Lance
Just common sense !! John
So shooting is an anciient Maori custom really. John
One law for all. Bud
Section 4 of the Conservation Act should be repealed if it could in any way be used to give anyone, no matter what their ethnic background, license to rape our beautiful country of what is left of our native flora and fauna. Diana
Maori conservationists? Yeah right!! If so, show me a love moa. Maori travelled through the Pacific plundering each island’s resources. NZ was simply the last place before ‘civilisation’ caught up with them. Alan
I do not need to comment. However, it seems to me that far too much of our law is hampering development because it has to pass through the Te Tititi O Waitangi net. Ray
Along with the treaty it’s self. Andrew
What do we expect when we continue our race to apartheid doom? John
The non-existent “principles” of the TOW have no place in any NZ law, regulation or process. John
Tau should be prosecuted like ALL other New Zealanders. By trying to hide his crime he has shown that He knew he was acting against the law of New Zealand. make an example of him. One year jail for every pigeon in his posession. Johan
There is not enough information in your discussion document to make a well informed decision and I have not taken the time to research it further but is seems to me that this is more of “one law for all”. Peter
Charge him. Ian
It’s really important to make a strong statement in regard to this blatant disregard for conservation and our laws pertaining to Kereru. They must be saved. Sharon
If it only saves 1 Kereru it should be repealed. Joan
Nobody should be above the law. High time special provisions of the Treaty were scrapped. Peter
Laws of our country should be for all not different for some ethnicities. Barbara
Same law for all New Zealanders. Dave
This again clearly illustrates the divisiveness, double standards and political deception around the whole Treaty of Waitangi neo-racial activity. Stuart
This would hopefully banish the options of pigeon killers to avoid prosecution. Carl
It is amazing how the European has all the restrictions placed on them yet, the maori is free to plunder our wildlife on land and at sea. All peoples of NZ should come under the same laws,and not be separated by race. David
There isn’t a politician in the country that will ever do anything that might offend Maori, the seed has been planted and we are now gathering the racist crop that is the Treaty of Waitangi. The chances of equal rights in this country are nil. Stevo
Time that Maori are bound by laws that apply to everyone else. Well overdue and abused by S Tau (a hypocrite). Kevin
Given that there is no agreed definition of “the Principles of the Treaty”, section 4 is meaningless, anyway. It is high time that each and every reference to “the Principles of the Treaty” were deleted from all of our legislation. Graham
The time has come. David
Protected means from everybody. It was Maori who hunted moa to extinction and everything else will go the same way if not protected. Kevin
It is time to remove separatism from our laws. Susan
No one is above the law. NO ONE. Jim
All references in Law to the Treaty of Waitangi should be repealed. You cannot have a Treaty representing a basis of law whose terms may be interpreted variously between different groups within the community often as racist, divisive, biased, monopolistic, pandering favor, determining the effect of general laws enacted for the well being of the whole of the citizenry. In a democracy good law is ONE LAW FOR ALL, no exceptions. Richard
If maori are successful in claiming a Treaty given right (principle???) to continue hunting and eating our native fauna surely they are entitled to go on slaughtering and eating maori and others as well? After all that was the custom before and at times even after the Treaty! Alan
There should be no special privileges for any sector of the community which expects to be treated differently before the law. One law for all sums it up. Peter
One law for ALL New Zealanders please! Mark
If we could ask a Moa what it thought about Maori eating customs, I’m sure it would not be in favour of being in the food chain. So this act and the Waitangi Tribunal should be repealed. Stevo
Absolutely section 4 should be repealed. The Treaty of Waitangi shouldn’t come into conservation at all. Barbara
Repeal it and all of the other race-based Treaty clauses in legislation. John
It is shocking that pigeon poaching is going on these days. And shame on DoC for not prosecuting the perpetrators. I wonder who authorised them to turn a blind eye. Steve
Sonny Tau should face jail and a $100k fine. He knew exactly what he was doing – he thought he was above the law. Chris
Maori are not guardians of nature, they are abusers of nature. Timothy