Greedy poachers put deer stocks at risk, warn gardai
HIGH market prices for venison has pushed deer poaching in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains to epidemic levels, a senior garda has revealed.
Based on a strong demand in Europe for the meat, legitimate wildlife dealers are paying €70 for an average hind and €100 for a stag.
Now, gardai along with the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) are cracking down on poachers, one of whom recently handed in 72 deer to a dealer in the space of a month.
"These guys are shooting 10, 12, 13 deer a day.
"The reason you have increases is that people are getting well paid for it," Insp Martin Walker told the Herald.
"When you have that type of reward, it's down to greed and down to the financial reward and gain (for the increasing levels of poaching)," he added.
Wicklow's Luggala Estate has the highest concentration of Sika deer in Europe and, as a result, is a "magnet to both legitimate and illegitimate hunters", Insp Walker said.
"These unscrupulous poachers were shooting deer at night time from the public roads using high-powered spot lights and rifles.
"They pose an additional threat to domestic animals and members of the public who may be frequenting the particular areas," he added.
Gardai from Bray, Wicklow, Baltinglass and Carlow stations are working in close co-operation with the NPWS to combat the phenomenon.
Regional manager with the NPWS, Wesley Atkinson, said the poaching is happening right across Wicklow.
He said it takes place in a number of ways. To comply with the law, hunters need a hunting licence, a licensed firearm and to carry out the activity within daylight hours.
They also need the permission of the landowner on whose property they are hunting.
Mr Atkinson said a person only has to be in breach of one of the rules to be acting illegally.
"Wicklow has a situation where it has the highest deer population in the country and the highest deer cull in the country," he added.
Mr Atkinson said, in some areas in Wicklow, there has been a "notable decline" in the deer population due to poaching.
"There is a good market for venison at the moment. When the demand drops, the price drops and so does the level of poaching activity.
"It (the demand) seems to be internationally driven. There seems to be good demand across Europe and the UK," he told the Herald.
The first Irish Wildlife Crime Conference was held at the Pilo Hotel, Ashbourne, Co Meath last month. Insp Walker was one of the speakers.
He is encouraging members of the public to report suspicious activity relating to poaching to gardai.