White-tailed eagle shot and starved to death
One of the first two white-tailed eagles bred in the wild in Ireland in more than a century has been found shot dead.
The male bird, which fledged from a nest on the shores of Lough Derg last summer, was discovered starved to death near Ballinderry, North Tipperary.
Up to 50 pellets from a shotgun cartridge were found in the eagle's body.
Conservation experts involved in reintroducing the majestic birds of prey to Irish skies said they are shocked by the horrific nature of the shooting and the bird's slow death, believed to have been from starvation after being shot.
They believe the shotgun blast broke one of the eagle's legs and wings, and that it survived for several weeks before dying.
Gardai and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) are investigating.
Dr Allan Mee, project manager of the re-introduction scheme who personally brought birds from Norway and released them to the wild, said it was heart-breaking.
"It is absolutely incomprehensible that someone would shoot one of these magnificent birds, but even more shocking is that one of the first two Irish-bred eagles has been shot only seven months after leaving the nest," he said.
Dr Mee said the loss of the bird, bred at a nesting site beside Lough Derg near Mountshannon in Co Clare, was especially difficult to take.
White-tailed eagles reach maturity and begin breeding at about four or five years of age, and a viable population is dependent on the survival of young Irish-bred eagles.
"This bird and its sibling were the hope for the future of the species in Ireland," Dr Mee said.
"Many people spent months closely watching this bird's progress until it flew from the nest near Mountshannon last year. I feel gutted for these people as well as the bird."
The bird had fledged from the nest in July 2013 along with its sibling and after a few months of care by its parents both young eagles began to disperse more widely and became independent.
The last confirmed sighting of the pair was near Dromineer, Co Tipperary, on the east shore of Lough Derg in January.
A member of the public reported the bird on lands by the lough.
Jimmy Deenihan TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, said he was shocked.
He said: "The birth of this bird was a special day for nature conservation in Ireland.
"So much work has gone into reintroducing this species here and there has been wonderful co-operation by many different groups to achieve successful breeding. To have all this undone is a significant blow."
Stefan Jones, local NPWS district conservation officer, said the eagle's death was especially drawn out and horrific.
"This bird would have been unable to fish and forage as normal, and it appears that it slowly starved to death as a result," he said.
"Bearing in mind the broken limbs and the fact that it had approximately 50 shotgun pellets in it, it is amazing it managed to survive for such a period."
Releases of 100 white-tailed eagles took place from 2007-2011 in Killarney National Park.
The number of adult pairs has increased steadily from one in 2010 to 10 in 2013. It is anticipated that several pairs will nest in 2014.
Ireland's largest game shooting group said it was outraged over the illegal shooting.
Des Crofton, director of the National Association of Regional Game Councils, said it was irresponsible and damaging to the all law-abiding firearms owners.
"Whatever the intent was to commit such a serious offence, any right-minded firearms owner will find this illegal act completely irresponsible and blatantly unacceptable," he said.
"There can be no hiding place within the shooting community for anyone who would commit such an act."