Saturday 21 October 2017

'Operation Bambi' tracks down gang of deerhunters

Poachers are targeting deer
Poachers are targeting deer

GARDAI smashed a gang they believe is responsible for poaching up to 200 deer after boasts about the exploits were posted on Facebook.

Operation Bambi was carried out by officers with the assistance of the National Parks Wildlife Service and targeted a gang that was regarded as highly active.

The deerhunters have been operating without a licence in counties Wicklow, Carlow and Kilkenny and have been under investigation by gardai since the start of the season in September.

Senior sources have revealed that one suspect used Facebook to boast that he had killed 15 deer on one night, and that gardai would not catch him.

The inquiries culminated yesterday in the arrest of three men in their 20s, two in Carlow town and one in Rathvilly, Co Carlow.

The three were detained throughout the day at Carlow and Thomastown garda stations under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act and released last night.

They were questioned about suspected reckless discharge of a firearm and also about alleged offences under the Wildlife Act.

Gardai from Bray and Baltinglass, Wicklow, backed up by armed members of the regional support unit, seized a number of items as potential evidence during planned searches of their homes.

A source explained: “Ultimately, this individual's ridiculous boasts about the deer he has shot on online and other forums led directly to three arrests yesterday.”

Carlow-based Inspr Martin Walker, who led the inquiries, told the Irish Independent last night that ‘Bambi’ was an on-going operation and further inquiries would be carried out into the activities of poachers.

The poachers operated with the help of a high-powered lamp and an electronic device imitating the call of a stag during the rut, or mating season, in October.

This attracted stags to come out of their cover in heavily forested areas, and become easy targets for the poachers.

Gardai have also confirmed that the suspect who is aged in his 20s and from Co Carlow has been questioned about shooting the animals from the roadside with a high-powered rifle.

It is not known how many deer are poached in Ireland each year, though individual carcasses can fetch between €60 and €200 depending on the species.

County Wicklow is reckoned to have the highest concentration of Sika deer in Europe after it was introduced from its native Japan by Lord Powerscourt |in 1859, at his estate near Glencree.

Sika and red deer are closely related and as a result of inter-breeding all of the deer now in Wicklow are hybrids.

It is estimated that about 12,000 of the 32,000 deer shot under licence last year were killed in Wicklow while hundreds more fell victim to poachers.

A stag is reckoned to generate profits of over €300 for the poachers.

District conservation officer for Carlow, Kilkenny and south Wexford Lorcan Scott said that poaching is “a widespread problem” nationwide.

He said: “We have a much higher instance of activity to supply the Christmas market.

“Venison is very much a winter food and so anyone who is illegally, commercially poaching at night is trying to fill orders.”

He also said: “With the downturn, these fellas with rifles and no jobs are restless and have too much time on their hands.”

WDAI director Damien Hannigan welcomed yesterday's arrests, saying that the deer population is being “decimated” by poaching.

He said that his organisation had been made aware of the case of two deer shot near Rathdangan, Co Wicklow, at the weekend.

He said: “They've just been shot and dumped on the side of the main road. It's typical of what we're facing.”

Tom Brady, Ken Foy and Cormac McQuinn

Online Editors

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