More than 1,200 hares held for coursing released back into the wild

Clubs previously captured animals for coursing but activity suspended due to Covid-19

Clubs affiliated to the Irish Coursing Club had previously captured 1,270 hares for coursing activities. Photograph: iStock

Clubs affiliated to the Irish Coursing Club had previously captured 1,270 hares for coursing activities. Photograph: iStock

 

More than 1,200 hares, which had been held in captivity for future coursing meetings, have been released back into the wild, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has announced.

Clubs affiliated to the Irish Coursing Club had previously captured 1,270 hares for coursing activities. However, the activity has been suspended under Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions and the hares had remained in captivity since.

A statement from the Department said it formally requested the clubs to release all of the captive hares due to the importance of “the welfare and conservation of a protected species”.

The Department noted that by December 1st, the current duration of level 5 restrictions, the hares would have been held in captivity for at least six weeks, and in some cases for much longer.

It is also not clear at what point after December 1st it may be permissible for coursing to recommence, it added.

Minister Darragh O’Brien said hares are a protected species and are “better off being in the wild rather than being held in captivity in large groups”.

“There have been some claims that my intervention in seeking the release of hares would result in them being hunted illegally by others. It has been claimed that this measure will make it easier for illegal hunters, as they would now know the location of high numbers of hares,” he said.

“ I would point out that after every coursing meeting hares are released in any case, and these hares were in the wild until recent weeks. I see no reason why they should have been held for the duration that coursing was suspended.”

The Minister said that the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the gardai have made a number of prosecutions in relation to illegal hunting of hares in recent years.

“Finally, there have been a number of erroneous claims on social media that the National Park and Wildlife Service publish the release locations of hares by ICC clubs. That is absolutely not the case and such claims are misleading and designed solely to serve an agenda supporting the retention of the hares in continuing captivity,” he added.

Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, added that the recently-announced dedicated wildlife crime unit will ensure a “strategic and standardised approach to dealing with illegal persecution of wildlife”.