Large groups of deer spotted in Killarney town amid controversial National Park culling programme

Groups of large red stags, up to a dozen in one instance, have been spotted on main roads in Killarney town amid a controversial culling programme in the Killarney National Park being conducted at the end of the deer hunting season.

Large groups of deer spotted in Killarney town amid controversial National Park culling programme

Groups of large red stags, up to a dozen in one instance, have been spotted on main roads in Killarney town amid a controversial culling programme in the Killarney National Park being conducted at the end of the deer hunting season.

A large area of the park nearest the town, as well as the local golf course, was closed off to protect the public while trained rangers shot the deer under licence.

Some 15 deer were killed in a cull that will see around 250 deer taken out of the herd over the coming weeks.

Managers of the park, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, have defended the early morning daytime cull, saying it is necessary for deer management in Killarney.

It is being carried out in daylight “to facilitate some further investigation in to incidence of copper deficiency in the herd, “ the NPWS also said.

Before Christmas, it was found that a small number of deer in the Knockreer area were suffering from a copper deficiency (Enzootic Ataxia). Following the examination of these animals in conjunction with the Regional Veterinary Laboratory (RVL), the Department is now undertaking a further sampling and testing of deer to determine the extent of the issue, the NPWS said.

The Irish Deer Commission (IDC) has criticised “mass culls” and called for a return to the practices abandoned in 2009 when staff and resources in the park became scarce.

Culls are necessary not least to protect the park's ecosystem, IDC spokesman Damien Hannigan said.

But “mass culls” are not in line with animal welfare and cause distress among the red deer herd, particularly at the end of the hunting season when animals are in poor condition after winter and females are heavily pregnant.

"We support culling and agree on the damage caused by deer but we are concerned about animal welfare issues," Mr Hannigan said.

Mr Hannigan believes the stags on the Ballydowney roundabout, one of the main arteries into Killarney, put themselves in danger to avoid the nearby cull.

Exact deer numbers are still not known but an estimated 900 reds – almost extinct five decades ago – along with hundreds of small Sika deer now live in the Killarney area.

Calls for a reduction in deer numbers, as well as fencing off the national park, have increased.

Most of the animals shot yesterday were female, it has emerged. However, stags are to be taken out in the coming weeks. And a programme in the upland herd is also in place.

“As part of its regular on-going management operations, the Department (NPWS) carries out localised annual deer counts and also culls where appropriate. The deer culling was carried out under licence by NPWS staff as part of our regular ongoing management of the herd within the National Park. For health and safety reasons the park was closed for the duration of the cull,” it said.

Further early morning closures of the park in the town area are expected in the coming weeks.

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