Night patrols set up to curb poaching


WILDLIFE RANGERS alert to poachers and trophy hunters are undertaking night-time patrols in the Killarney National Park to discourage any illegal targeting of red stags, now in peak condition for the rutting season.

District conservation officer with the National Parks and Wildlife Service Frank McMahon said the period from now and especially in the run-up to Christmas is the most vulnerable time for the deer, as it is now they are targeted by poachers in search of antlers as well as venison for Christmas.

There are two distinct herds of Killarney red deer, an upland and a lowland herd, Mr McMahon explained.

Breeding is much more prolific among the better-fed lowland herd grazing on the Killarney golf course and along the shores of the lakes.

He said culling was carefully undertaken to manage the herds. “We have to cull to protect and limit damage to the yew, oak and ash woods of the park; these are important habitats.”

But he warned against poaching, confirming rangers would now be undertaking night-time patrols.

With numbers of red deer among the highest in almost 100 years, the annual red deer rut, or mating season, currently under way, has become a major tourist attraction in the town.

The Killarney herd has grown from close to extinction – just 60 animals in the late 1960s – to around 700 today.

The increase has been due to rigorous protection and vigilance as well as the raising of awareness about the deer by the local Red Deer Society.

The rut has started in the uplands and the mountains of Killarney are echoing with the bellowing of stags gathering their hinds for the weeks ahead when mating will take place. Five or more hinds are gathered by the stags.

The discovery of 10 stags with their heads removed shocked wildlife rangers and conservationists in the late autumn of 2003 and has increased vigilance among the public.

Amid reports of accidents involving deer, Mr McMahon urged vigilance by motorists. The lowland animals have become accustomed to people, Mr McMahon explained.

The manager of the Lake Hotel, on the shores of Lough Lein, Niall Huggard said the rutting season has become a major tourist attraction.

Last year there were astonishing battles in front of the diners when stags chased each other into the lake and along the ruined lakeshore castle that was once the seat of McCarthy Mór.