Cape Town – The beleaguered ostrich industry has been hit by poachers who creep into fields at night to rip feathers off live birds, the Cape Times reported on Tuesday.
"It's quite a problem at the moment. They pluck the birds at night. Some get injured and some are killed. They pluck them in a bad way so the birds get messed up badly," said Ostrich Business Chamber head Piet Kleyn.
The birds were normally plucked in the slaughter factory after being stunned, which caused little harm.
Kleyn said a sudden increase in the price of ostrich feathers could be a reason for the appearance of feather thieves.
The Western Cape government's research farm in Oudtshoorn was one of the main targets.
Researcher Stefan Engelbrecht told the newspaper they were first hit by feather thieves about a month ago, and then again recently.
About 70 birds were plucked and four were bludgeoned to death.
The industry had been hard hit by an export ban imposed on South African ostrich meat in April 2011, after an outbreak of avian flu.
To date, 50% of ostrich farmers had left the industry because of the export ban and subsequent job losses.