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06 December 2023

New Zealander fined over red hawk hoax

Picture for illustrative purpose only


A New Zealand man who set bird-watchers a-twitter by faking a new species of red hawk was fined on Tuesday and ordered to pay costs to the animal welfare group which uncovered his hoax.

Ornithologists believed a previously undiscovered species of hawk had emerged when red-winged birds of prey were spotted around the North Island town of Dannevirk in 2009, Fairfax Media reported.

In fact, the birds were common harrier hawks which farmer Grant Michael Teahan had trapped, spray-painted red, then released as a prank, the Dennevirk District Court was told.

The ruse was uncovered when one of the mysterious hawks was hit by a car, revealing its colourful plumage came from an aerosol can, rather than a rare genetic mutation.

The New Zealand Society for the Protection of Animals (SPCA) launched a lengthy investigation which eventually resulted in a raid on Teahan's property, where computer files relating to the hoax were found.

Judge Geoff Rea said the 39-year-old revelled in the attention his prank received as experts debated whether a new type of hawk had been found.

"You were trapping hawks, spray-painting them and looking forward to the publicity that generated locally," he said.

"You paid close attention to the news media coverage of it. I have no doubt you were the person -- either singularly, or with others -- responsible for what has occurred here."

Rea fined Teahan NZ$5,000 (US$4,100) and ordered him to pay costs of up to NZ$15,000 to the SPCA after finding him guilty of two counts of ill-treating animals.