Lives are being put at risk by deer poachers using high-powered rifles in rural areas at night, it was claimed yesterday.
Deer poaching has reached “unprecedented levels” nationally, according to the Wild Deer Association of Ireland with gardaí currently investigating a number of frightening incidents.
The decaying carcasses of headless deer have been found in parts of Kerry and Cork as the authorities fear an increase in trophy-hunting activities.
Night-time shooting, meantime, remains a cause of concern.
In one incident in recent weeks, a bullet, believed to have first passed through a deer, entered a living room where a couple were sitting, in Tuosist, Co Kerry, at around 11pm.
They had been watching TV just two metres away from where the bullet penetrated their home. It ricocheted off a wall and chipped the window frame before hitting the floor.
In another case, a shot was discharged close to a house in the Templenoe area of Co Kerry. No evidence of the bullet was found, but children were playing close to the property.
Association secretary Damien Hannigan appealed to farmers to be vigilant about people coming onto their lands. “Landowners should not turn a blind eye to these people on their properties at night,” he said.
Last year, a number of headless deer carcasses were found in parts of Cork and Kerry, leading to the belief they were killed by trophy hunters for their antlers.
However, Mr Hannigan maintained, in most cases, deer were being shot for sale as venison.
“The number of reports of poaching being received from all over the country has reached unprecedented levels. Red deer, in particular, have been decimated in recent years,” he said.
Kerry’s protected red deer herd has fallen to 450 head, about 100 below the figure needed to sustain the herd, he added.
It is illegal to shoot male and female red deer in Kerry under an order introduced by Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister Jimmy Deenihan last October. The order reflects the national importance of the herd and concerns about falling numbers.
Mr Hannigan said the number of hunting licences had increased by 1,000 to 4,500 in the last three years, but the association was now seeing a decline for the first time in the number of deer being culled.
Special permits to shoot deer can also be issued to landowners and farmers when genuine deer damage is caused to crops. But the number of permits for such incidents had reduced as fewer farmers had issues with deer, according to the association.
It is soon to have a meeting with senior officials in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and called for more enforcement of the wildlife laws. Meanwhile, the association has set up some voluntary, night-time patrols to try to curb the activities of poachers.
Coillte has also reported a “dramatic increase” in incidents involving the use of unauthorised firearms for deer poaching on its lands, and has called for such incidents to be reported to forest managers, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the gardaí.
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