A Red Kite released for the first time in 100 years with great fanfare six weeks ago was found shot dead yesterday. The bird had up to eight shotgun pellets when found on a farm.
The beautiful bird of prey had been fitted with a small radio transmitter which allowed it to be tracked.
An animal x-ray discovered the gun shots.
It was one of 30 Red Kites released under the Golden Eagle Trust programme to reintroduce birds of prey which were wiped out 100 years ago, ironically due to shooting.
Gardai are investigating the killing as the bird is protected under law.
The bird was shot between Sunday evening and Tuesday lunchtime and was recovered from a farm field north of Arklow in Co Wicklow.
Damian Clare, project manager, said the killing was a major disappointment to them. The birds had adapted well to the surrounding countryside over the last month.
They had been seen feeding on numerous silage fields and recently harvested arable fields, foraging for worms and insects such as crane fly (daddy long legs).
Mr Lane said local farmers, landowners and members of the shooting fraternity had been extremely supportive of the project to date.
"Obviously, after all the hard work and support for the project in Wicklow, nationally and in Wales, it is very worrying to recover a shot Kite so soon after they have been released," he said.
"But I must stress that the level of support from all the local farmers, landowners and local gun clubs and shooting syndicates has been excellent."
Red Kites were driven to extinction in Ireland previously due to shooting, trapping and poisoning.
The Wicklow project's success will ultimately depend on the continuing support and good will of the local community.
Mr Lane said: "We would again ask for all people shooting quarry species in Wicklow and Leinster to be fully aware that they may come in contact with Red Kites.
"We hope that all landowners can advise people shooting on their property that Red Kites must be left unmolested.
"These species are fully protected by the law and it is illegal to shoot them, by mistake or otherwise".
"Despite this early setback, we are still confident that we can re-establish a viable breeding population in Wicklow and that in time, through our on- going awareness campaign, that the red kite will become a cherished part of Wicklow's beautiful landscape and will gradually become an added attraction for tourism."
"It is very unfortunate that we should recover a shot kite during National Heritage week.
"It once again highlights the importance that everyone needs to play a role in protecting Ireland's natural and cultural heritage."
The National Association of Regional Gun Clubs are fully supportive of the project and have been reassured by their counterparts in Britain that Red Kites hold no threat to either game birds or livestock.
Mr Lane said it was not yet known whether the bird was shot by accident or deliberately.