Poaching and spotlighting is rife in Southland, with authorities battling to stop illegal activity which is costing farmers thousands of dollars and putting lives at risk.
Following the death of 500 sheep, possibly triggered by a poacher on a station near Riversdale this month, police concede poaching is on the rise.
The sheep from Mount Wendon Station smothered when they crammed into a narrow gully.
Gore police are investigating.
Detective Sergeant Greg Baird, of Gore CIB, said the circumstances and number of sheep that died on Mount Wendon suggested the sheep may have been disturbed by someone who was not supposed to be on the property.
Poaching was becoming increasingly common in the region, he said.
The actions of poachers hit farmers in the pocket and were potentially dangerous, he said.
''Farmers are often affected by the actions of these type of people with stock loss and gates being left open. There is also the danger aspect, with the very real risk of somebody getting shot.
"This danger is heightened by the use of spotlights with their restricted field of view.''
The latest incident of possible poaching follows an ongoing police inquiry into illegal spotlighting on Department of Conservation land near Piano Flat in Northern Southland.
In December, The Southland Times reported DOC workers feared for their lives when illegal spotlight hunters had them in their sights.
Baird said regular patrols were being conducted in rural areas and signs were being posted warning people about the consequences of poaching and urging rural residents to report suspicious activity.
Poachers were also active in other parts of Southland.
Constable Steve Winsloe, of Winton, said despite an ongoing anti-poaching drive, police were still receiving reports of poaching issues.
Police were continuing with a poaching awareness programme that included spending three days talking with farmers at the Waimumu field days.
Southland Federated Farmers president Russell MacPherson said farmers, especially deer and pig farmers, had been dealing with poachers for a long time.
Sheep and cattle farmers were also sometimes targeted.
''It would be good to see police giving more support to farmers to help stop poaching,'' he said.
Along with stock loss, poaching was often linked to theft of farm machinery, Mr MacPherson said.
If people wanted to hunt for deer and wild pigs on private land they could ask permission from a farmer but if the answer was ''no'', that decision had to be respected, he said.
- The Southland Times