Four men have appeared in court after police found them driving with 11 stolen lambs hog-tied in the back of their hatchback.
The men, aged 21, 21, 22 and 35, from Havelock North and Flaxmere, were stopped in Hastings at 1am yesterday.
They have been charged with stealing and ill-treating the lambs, valued at $880, which came from a property near Bridge Pa.
The animals, which police said were lucky to be still alive, belong to Idea Services, an arm of IHC that provides services to the intellectually disabled.
Area manager Tracey Lanigan said staff and clients were relieved to have the lambs back.
The lambs were part of a flock of about 25 sheep the organisation had at the property.
The four accused appeared briefly in Hastings District Court yesterday and were remanded on bail with various conditions until Tuesday.
In a similar incident in Hastings three years ago, four men were caught with 14 sheep forced into the boot and back seat of a Mazda 626. Two of the sheep had suffocated.
Two of the men were given jail sentences, one was sentenced to home detention and 100 hours' community work, and a fourth was dealt with by Youth Services.
Brian McClay, whose sheep were among those stolen in 2010, said rustling was an ongoing problem and he urged judges to take a stronger stance.
"Those sentences in 2010 really weren't enough at all."
William Chambers, who runs about 15,000 sheep a year at various locations between Napier and Havelock North, said thefts occurred constantly and always at night, but he had not noticed a great increase lately.
He had about 80 that were unaccounted for last year, and were probably stolen.
"I lost six on Waitangi Day. I found a few sheep in a paddock they shouldn't have been in.
"When I rounded them up I found a couple with bootlaces still tied to their legs. I just undid the string and let them go."
- The Dominion Post