Department of Conservation officials are perplexed as to why two little blue penguins were torn from their nest by a trio of poachers.
Two men and a woman were seen using a crowbar to hook the penguins out of their burrow in Napier's Perfume Point last week, while a woman held a torch for them.
Two of the penguins were wrapped in towels and taken away by the group who departed in a small white four-door car.
A third penguin died in the raid and was left in the burrow.
DOC Hawke's Bay compliance officer Rod Hansen told Mike Hosking the offenders motive is unclear and this kind of smuggling has never happened before.
"There is no known history of little blue penguin smuggling. If the penguins were being gathered for food the offenders presumably would have taken the dead one."
Hansen said DoC suspected the crowbar was used to prise rocks off the penguin's burrow, and then hook the birds out around the neck.
Hansen said he was concerned "this might not be a one-off" and that the penguins may have been "smuggled".
"The very next day another penguin was found dead floating nearby and it appears it may have died from a head injury.
"We have no idea where these birds are being taken to and we are seeking CCTV footage from the surrounding area and hoping members of the public may be able to come forward with further information."
Hansen believes the culprits wanted the penguins alive and to take home as pets, but until they find them he can't be 100% sure of the reasoning behind the decision.
"So we know there were three captured and one was killed in the process and left behind. So we can only assume they want them alive."