Last updated 19:22, August 6 2018
A Darfield family blames the Department of Conservation (DOC) for the death of their beloved kea Casper and Stumpy.
The endangered alpine parrots have been part of Ron Stewart's family since 1977 - but on Saturday morning he found them dead on the floor of their aviary.
Less than 24 hours earlier, a DOC ranger and veterinarian took blood samples from the birds despite Stewart pleading with them not to.
DOC staff, "shocked" by the birds' "unintended and deeply concerning" deaths, returned to uplift them for a necropsy on Monday. They were ordered from the property.
The birds, thought to be about 43 years old, were given to Stewart and his late wife Dawn, an internationally renowned parrot breeder, by DOC's predecessor, the Wildlife Service, in 1977.
Casper had a head injury and Stumpy's leg had to be amputated. They were unlikely to survive in the wild.
In 2012, DOC told Ron Stewart the aviary no longer met the minimum standards for the care of captive kea. Unless he increased its size from 24 cubic metres to 180m3, they would find a new home for Casper and Stumpy.
Stewart and his daughter-in-law Diana Stewart disagreed. They believed a bigger enclosure would kill the birds and they wanted them to remain in their existing home until they died naturally.
"It would be like putting two 90-year-olds in a theme park and telling them to 'go for your life'," Diana Stewart said.
The oldest known captive kea was 50 years old, but the average life span in the wild was much less than that, although some have been known to live to their late 20s. Stumpy and Casper were considered to be in their twilight years.
DOC insisted on rehoming the birds but needed to complete a health assessment before it could be done.
On Friday, a DOC ranger and wildlife veterinarian visited to observe the birds' behaviour, weigh them, take swabs, and take a blood sample and a feather from each.
Diana Stewart said she asked them not to take blood because she knew it would distress the birds.
"I said you are going to kill them. They said 'research shows we can do this. It's not going to stress them'."
Ron Stewart said it took 75 minutes for the vet get the blood from both birds after she had trouble trying to find veins. Both Casper and Stumpy were "screaming in pain", he said.
"I've never heard them scream like that before."
After the ranger and vet left, Ron Stewart said he found the two birds huddled together around their water bowl. The next morning they were dead.
DOC Mahaanui district operations manager Andy Thompson said DOC was shocked to hear of the death of the two kea, which was "unintended and deeply concerning".
"We offer our sympathy to Ron Stewart and his family."
DOC had been working to improve the outcomes for captive kea by removing them from premises that did not meet standards, to professionally-run institutions and existing kea flocks.
"Kea are highly intelligent and active birds that need large aviaries so they can fly around and suitable enrichment activities to keep them healthy and mentally stimulated."
Since 2012, DOC had rehoused 15 birds from nine facilities to new homes such as the Wellington Zoo.
Thompson said the health assessment was conducted to ensure the birds did not have viruses or diseases that could be transferred to other birds.
He said the entire procedure took about 35 minutes per bird. Both birds were alert and did not appear to be distressed after the assessment, he said.
DOC wanted to send the birds to Massey University for a necropsy to ascertain the cause of death, before returning them.
Diana Stewart said they had lost faith in DOC and ordered DOC staff off the property when they arrived to take the birds on Monday afternoon.
This made the front page of Press. I'd like to start taking a few blood samples myself, if you get the drift. DOC=Department Of Catastrophe.
cant trust any of em anymore ...how awful to have 43 year old companions and some pushy agency come in to destroy them ...just makes me HATE any kind of agency or official anymore .absolutely disgusting
What an incredibly sad story, the authoritative DOC knows better yet again!!
They have no problem with 1080 being dumped on our native bush killing everything living thing inside it and now they are actively killing native birds that have been obviously loved and cared for by Ron Stewart and his family!! This is so disgusting and so disheartening and I can not imagine how Ron and family must be feeling right now. What an enormous let-down by what used to be a fantastic govt dept but is now a govt dept to be despised, loathed and not worthy of our respect or compliance.
This is absolutely infuriating, and heartbreaking.
The carers of the kea begged the DOC ranger and vet NOT to take blood samples. Their pleas were ignored, the keas died.
Reminds me of the Samoan family when they heard of the death of another child at the hospital after vaccination, asking that their baby not be vaccinated, but the nurse ignored their pleas, and another precious baby died!
Sarah left this in chat.