Extra steps need to be taken to protect white-tailed eagle chicks following the shooting and killing of one of only two Irish bred birds in existence, say a conservation expert.
White Tailed Eagle reintroduction project manager Dr Allan Mee said the death of the young male bird that had only left its nest seven months was "heartbreaking".
The rare eagle was found in a remote area in North Tipperary. The post mortem revealed up to 50 pellets in the body of the protected bird.
“For this to happen is tragic. It really is a hard blow,” he said.
“These birds are not a threat, they are part of our heritage and wildlife.”
Dr Mee said the eagle did not die straight away but would have starved because his wounds stopped him for being able to get food.
“It’s hard to get inside the mind of a person who did it,” he said.
The eagle was reared with its other male sibling in a nest in Lough Derg near Mount Shannon in Co Clare. The species had been absent in Ireland for more than 100 years.
Dr Mee said from the 100 birds released in Killarney National Park in 2007, 25 per cent have died because of human influence.
“Extinction is a real possibility. Reintroduction could fail,” he said.
“Shooting is not the biggest problem, poisoning has killed the most and three have flown into wind turbines. ”
He said all the birds brought in from Norway had transmitters with the exception of the two Irish bred birds.
“We did not get a licence to tag them but hopefully for next year’s chicks we will,” he said.
“Because of what’s happened with these birds we can’t leave them to their own devices.”
Dr Mee said with the transmitters they knew when the birds move into a new area and go to talk the locals who may have any concerns.
“We’ve already done this with Norwegian, birds why not Irish birds?” he said.
Dr Mee said they had stopped bringing the birds from Norway in 2011 and now relied on the ten pairs of birds for Irish bred birds.
“It’s not cheap to being them from Norway, you’ve to charter a flight,” he said.
“We’re relying on the pairs for breeding in Ireland now.”
Dr Mee said 95 per cent of the bird’s diet was fish but they also scavenged for food.
“In the early days there was a perception that white tail eagles could have a big effect on livestock,” he said.
“Thankfully, those fears have disappeared over time. They are no threat to livestock.”
“The farming organisations we work with were shocked to see the bird shot like this.”
National Parks and Wildlife Service head of science and biodiversity Ciaran O’Keeffe said they Irish bred birds had not been tagged due to fears the parents would abandon them as chicks.
“The parents were quite jittery and we were concerned if we disturbed the nest they would abandon their chicks altogether,” he said.
“We hope to tag this year’s chicks but we don’t want to put the life of the chicks at risk either.”
Mr O’Keeffe said the investigation between them and the Gardaí was being actively pursued but the problem was the length of time between the bird being shot and his death.
“The bird may have survived for perhaps several weeks after being shot,” he said.
National Association of Regional Game Council director Des Crofton said he strongly condemned the shooting and hoped the severest penalty possible would be implemented.
“The eagles are at a tender stage of repopulation. For somebody to go out and do this is simply inexcusable.”
“They should receive the harshest sentence and a life time ban. I hope they are caught.”