Incident upsets DOC staff

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 30/11/2013

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Horrified conservation workers feared for their lives when illegal spotlight hunters had them in their sights near a northern Southland camping ground.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) staff were on conservation land.

No shots were fired at the time, but the hunters fired shots further down the road, police said.

The frightening incident was one of two where people were caught in the spotlights of hunters in the same weekend.

They had similarities to the spotlighting incident that resulted in the death of schoolteacher Rosemary Ives in 2010.

Ms Ives was brushing her teeth at a DOC campsite near Turangi when she was shot by Andrew Mears, who was illegally spotlight hunting. Mears thought Ms Ives' headlamp was the eyes of a deer.

DOC southern region conservation services director Allan Munn said at least two Southland DOC staff were also wearing head lamps at Piano Flat when spotlights fell on them

The staff were extremely apprehensive when the light hit them, he said.

"It was a frightening experience. Make no mistake, they were concerned for their safety. The whole of New Zealand was greatly saddened by that Turangi incident and everyone knows that woman was wearing a headlight when she was shot, just like our people were last week."

Police said the incident involving the DOC workers was one of two cases at Piano Flat on the same weekend this month.

A member of the public was also flashed by illegal spotlight hunters about 10 days ago.

DOC has launched an investigation, with police assisting. Mr Munn said it was illegal to spotlight for animals with a firearm on conservation land in darkness.

He wanted the incidents highlighted so hunters would think twice before spotlight hunting where other people may be camping or living.

The consequences for the victim and the shooter, and their families, were catastrophic when accidents happened, he said.

Sergeant Greg Ballantyne, of Gore, said it would have been "hellishly scary" for the DOC workers, who were doing a bat survey at the time.

"With incidents that have happened in the past, this has given DOC a hell of a fright. This had the potential to be disastrous," Mr Ballantyne said.

"I understand that shortly after the DOC guys were spotlighted, shots were fired further down the road."

Poaching was on the increase at this time of year because hinds were relinquishing last year's fawns, which were "wandering around" and easily targeted by hunters, he said.

"We want to reiterate to the hunting fraternity that if they see people spotlighting and illegally hunting they should give us a call."

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- The Southland Times

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