Police are investigating the death of 500 sheep on a Southland property.
The loss of the stock is estimated to be about $75,000, with each animal potentially worth $150.
The sheep were found dead in a gully on Mt Wendon, owned by Steve and Steph Hastie in the Wendon Valley.
Steve Hastie declined to comment and Steph Hastie said they "really don't want to think about it".
"It's a big hit," she said.
The sheep are understood to have been smothered. Smothering can occur when sheep are startled or rush to a particular area and end up suffocating each other with their own wool.
Neighbour Gay Stringer said she thought poachers were responsible.
"I think somebody disturbed the sheep and they swerved into a gully where they wouldn't normally run and were smothered," she said.
She understood the incident happened when the ewes were heading back to their paddock through a series of open gates after the lamb sale on Mt Wendon between 11pm on February 2 and 7am the following morning.
Steph Stringer said poachers had been spotted in the area previously, but she didn't hear anything on the night in question.
Leithen farmer Sue Stewart said the incident was "tragic".
"I feel sorry for him," Stringer said.
Police, who said the landowner found the sheep dead in a gully, went public yesterday in a bid to solve the mystery.
Constable Wayne McClelland, of Gore, said the cause of the deaths, whether natural or suspicious, was being investigated.
Detective Sergeant Greg Baird, of Gore, confirmed police were investigating the possibility the sheep had smothered themselves after being spooked by someone who was not supposed to be on the property.
Each sheep was potentially worth $150, Baird said.
Southland Federated Farmers president Russell MacPherson confirmed large losses of sheep were possible when a flock decided they wanted to move through a small or narrow area at the same time.
This was known to happen on large high-country stations with thousands of sheep, he said.
Smotherings could also happen if there was no water in a paddock and the flock found a water source in a small narrow gully.
"They can all rush for the water and smother each other."
Police want to hear from anyone who might have seen any suspicious activity between 11pm on February 2 and 7am on February 3.
- © Fairfax NZ News