Donal Hickey: US culling system has merit

Stories regularly circulate about crashes and near misses involving motorists and out-of-control deer which get onto public roads from Killarney National Park, writes Donal Hickey

Donal Hickey: US culling system has merit

Central to the issue is the ongoing controversy about deer management and culling of wild deer found on lowlands and mountainous areas of the park.

It’s interesting to look at the way animals in the wild are managed in other countries, especially in north America where bighorn sheep are prized targets by gamehunters prepared to pay six-figure sums for permits to shoot them.

The hunting of bighorns is, paradoxically, seen as a conservation measure. Money raised is put back into extending the population and range of these wild sheep in places like Montana and South Dakota. You might think that American hunters prefer bigger animals, such as elk or moose. Not so.

“The widespread belief among serious hunters is that rams are the ultimate pursuit,” says a recent New York Times feature.

Residents of states can enter lotteries for permits, but chances of winning can be around 200/1. Non-residents have to fork out huge sums for auctioned permits, with the record being €457,000, in 2013, for what resulted in an 18-day hunt before the ram was killed. Hunters are allowed kill only selected rams which are older and weaker than the reminder of a herd.

Much of the money goes to the budgets of wildlife parks. It can be used to employ game wardens and to transplant bighorns to new areas, for instance. In New Mexico, €2.8m was spent on fencing a 4km stretch where bighorns were getting onto a highway.

Deer are regularly seen a long way from the 10,000-hectare Killarney National Park. There have been numerous calls on park authorities to put up proper fencing, but the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) says deer are wild animals and it would not be practical to fence off such a large area.

One of the reasons American hunters are prepared to fork out such enormous sums of money for bighorn permits is these animals are elusive, often inhabiting rocky, hard-to-access areas of mountains, well above the treeline. Hunts can take several days. Deer, on the other hand, are relatively easy to shoot: the challenges just don’t compare.

Over the years, the NPWS, which recently began a cull in Killarney National Park, has emphasised culling is done by trained wildlife staff, in accordance with “best husbandry practice and in full conformity with scientific and agricultural guidelines”.

Landowners can also get permits to shoot deer causing damage to property. It’s most unlikely the American model will be adopted here, despite a clamour for more culls.

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