Sonny Tau, the Ngapuhi leader and pigeon-fancier is sorry…he was caught.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has confirmed it is investigating allegations Mr Tau tried to smuggle the native wood pigeons from Invercargill to Northland.
He was reported to have been found with the birds under his jacket.
There are two species of native pigeon: the kererū, and the more threatened Chatham Islands pigeon – the parea.
Although the native pigeon was traditionally hunted for its meat and feathers, that is now illegal.
Kererū, or kukupa, are a protected species under the Wildlife Act 1953, DOC said.
It said the maximum penalty for being caught hunting the bird was a $100,000 fine and/or imprisonment of two years.
Mr Tau has released a statement admitting there was an incident on Tuesday last week in which he was questioned by a DOC officer about kererū in his possession.
“It is important to note that no charges over regulatory breaches have been laid at this point, therefore it is inappropriate for me to comment further on this matter,” he said.
“I wish to assure you I did, and will continue to, fully cooperate with any investigation. I also wish to say this was a mistake, which I deeply regret. The laws around native bird protection are important and to be respected by all, myself included.”