It’s probably safe to say that Irish red deer have never been photographed as much during their mating or, more commonly known, rutting season.
The social media, is really active in capturing images of well-antlered stags in all their pomp, in places such as Killarney, Co Kerry.
Nature photographers are also out in force. Last week, I saw six lined up along a stretch of a few hundred metres, in the Knockreer area of Killarney National Park, their long lenses trained on large numbers of deer. All waiting patiently for that special picture.
The annual rut is almost over but people out during the bank holiday still have the
opportunity to see deer close-up. Remember, though, it could be dangerous to go too close to stags still jealously guarding their harems from perceived threats of any kind.
Deer numbers have grown hugely. They are now to be found in every county, according
to experts, and populations have got out of control.
As well as our long-established red, fallow and sika deer, at least two non-native species have been unlawfully released here in recent times.
We hear reports almost daily of damage caused by roaming deer to farmland, private property and woodlands and of road traffic crashes involving deer. Over-population and range expansion are key issues to be considered in future management and conservation, experts emphasise.
There are regular calls from politicians and others for more culling of deer, but there’s more involved in tackling this issue that merely taking a gun and shooting them.
Tim Burkitt, a leading deer biologist who formerly worked with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), drew an overflow attendance when he spoke on the subject as part of the autumn talks series in Killarney National Park recently. He described the problem as complex, saying many issues needed to be looked as part of a solution.
Over the years, deer have been moved from Killarney to the Blasket Islands, Connemara and Doneraile Park, in north Cork, so killing them is not the only way to control numbers.
Cutbacks in funding and the number of wildlife rangers employed by the NPWS have depleted management operations.
The service is being starved of resources. There’s a need for more investment to ensure, for instance, deer counts are done and proper conservation is then carried out. The carrying capacity of deer ranges also needs to be established, as some ranges are clearly overpopulated.
By now meanwhile, most stags have finished with the rut and are showing signs of exhaustion after all the running, roaring, fighting, mating and lack of food and sleep in the past six weeks.
The majority of hinds have also mated and, very soon, deer will be coping with winter on the mountains.
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