The theft of two little blue penguins from a burrow in Napier has left the Department of Conservation (DoC) concerned about potential smuggling of the animal.
On Thursday at 10.30pm, a woman was seen holding a torch, while two men used a crowbar to capture three penguins.
One of the penguins died in the raid and was abandoned.
DOC suspects the crowbar was used to tear the burrow open, and then hook the birds around the neck.
Another penguin was found dead the next day, from a suspected head injury.
"We are really concerned as we believe this might not be a one off." said Hawkes Bay Compliance Officer Rod Hansen.
The group of people who were seen stealing the birds left the scene in a small, white four door car.
Mr Hansen says DoC is seeking CCTV footage, as well as appealing to members of the public to come forward with any information they may have.
Little blue penguins are a protected species, and their population is declining. Anyone found hunting, killing, or possessing them could be imprisoned for up to two years, and fined up to $100,000.
Anyone with information about the theft is urged to call the Department of Conservation on 06 8343111