High hopes for latest batch of eaglets

WITH a fair north-westerly wind behind them, nine white-tailed eaglets flapped their wings and flew tentatively into skies over Killarney Lakes yesterday.

They are the latest batch of eaglets to be released in Killarney National Park as part of a five-year reintroduction programme and a further 13 will be set free next week.

Since the project began in 2007, 64 eagles have been released in the park, but 14 have died including seven from illegal poisoning.

Eleven protected birds of prey, including three kites, three white-tailed eagles, a golden eagle, three buzzards and a peregrine falcon, have been confirmed poisoned in the Republic this year.

The three white-tailed eagles were poisoned in a four-week period in the Beaufort area, near Killarney, a short distance from their release point.

It is likely all three had fed on the same poisoned sheep carcass, according to Dr Allan Mee, of the Golden Eagle Trust and director of the Killarney project.

Conducting yesterday’s releases, he said he was hopeful the project will be successful, despite such setbacks. There has been strong farmer opposition to the project, amid fears eagles would kill lambs and that stricter regulations would be imposed on farming practices to facilitate the birds.

But Dr Mee said there was also a huge amount of support and felt what happened in Beaufort was most likely a single incident.

“We must turn things around before next year’s lambing season. Following a recent meeting with representatives of the IFA, ICMSA, Teagasc and other interests, I’m hopeful it will be the start of a better relationship,” he said.

The farm organisations have strongly rebutted suggestions the eagles were deliberately poisoned.

Farm organisations maintain the poisonings were accidental, with the birds consuming substances which are normally put out for foxes, crows and other predators of lambs. Gardaí and the Department of Agriculture and Food are investigating the poisonings and nobody has been prosecuted, as yet.

Meanwhile, the newly released birds, which are fed meat from culled Sika deer, are expected to spend the next few weeks in the vicinity of the release point and should be easily seen by people boating on the lakes.

The 22 birds — 16 male and six female, aged from 14 to 16 weeks — have again been donated by the Norwegian wildlife services. Three of birds have satellite tags which enables their movements to be tracked.

The plan is to introduce upwards of 100 eagles over a five-year period. The tourism industry, which believes eagles will be a visitor attraction, is among the main supporters of the project.

Some of the previously released birds have travelled all over this country and have been traced to parts of Co Antrim, Lough Neagh and the Orkney Islands, in Scotland.

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