Two chickens that have begun roosting in the local cemetery have residents in the small South Island town of Tuatapere wondering why the chickens crossed the Clifden Highway.
Greeting visitors at the gate of the cemetery, the friendly pair then happily wander over graves and around the well-manicured grounds, staying close to their guests.
Local police officer Senior Constable Damon Templeton said the town’s newest feathered tourist attractions arrived “about three weeks ago”.
He said he didn’t know where they came from but it’s not the first time chickens have made themselves at home in the community-run cemetery.
“A few years ago there used to be a couple of hens and a rooster. The hens disappeared but the rooster stayed for a while, but he started getting a bit aggressive and then he disappeared.”
Fowl play is suspected.
Like most others in the region, the Tuatapere Cemetery is several kilometres from the nearby town and sits in a pretty, rural setting. It has a paddock with cows on one side, and native vegetation on the other.
Member of the Tuatapere Cemetery Trust, part-time caretaker and “deputy grave-digger”, Maurice Green suspects the same person who released the hens and rooster at the cemetery several years ago may be responsible for the latest feathered residents.
“I’ve got an idea who put them there, but I’ll have to see him and ask him quietly,” he chuckled.
Mr Green remembers the cemetery’s rooster fondly, despite the handsome bird’s fowl deeds.
“He was there for a few years. He was a real character and a cheeky bugger.
“He’d look at us as if to say ‘what do you think you’re doing?’
“But he got a bit aggressive towards some people, especially children.”
He said the rooster enjoyed the vegetable tributes that were occasionally left on graves.
“The odd grave has veges instead of flower tributes and the rooster loved that,” he laughed.
Mr Green is excited to see poultry back among the graves.
“I had a wee grin to myself when I saw them.”
Tuatapere Cemetery is one of the country’s few cemeteries owned and administered by a community trust.
The Trust, comprising of a dedicated team of local volunteers, owns the land and leases some adjoining land to the farmer next door.
“So we’ve got room to expand,” explains Mr Green.
It’s hoped the graveyard’s newest (and only) living residents make Tuatapere Cemetery their final nesting place.
“I was so pleased the other day when I saw two more back there. And they’re nice chickens – beautiful colours”.