Wildlife poaching soars as gangs target deer, hares and small birds

Bullfinches are in demand by poachers
Bullfinches are in demand by poachers
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Wildlife poaching by criminal gangs has reached levels not seen since the 1980s, gardaí have warned.

Deer, hares and small birds are among the targets for criminals working to order for 'customers' here and abroad.

Kildare Superintendent Garda Martin Walker, who led the anti-poaching Operation ­Bambi in 2013, told the Farming Independent that farmers are reporting a noticeable rise in poaching - and in some cases have expressed concerns for their own safety. He added that soaring prices for venison carcasses is driving deer ­poaching.

"The last time the situation manifested itself this much was in the 80s when the price for venison was very high."

Some buyers are willing to pay up to €400/500 for the carcass of a red stag. Supt Walker said that "nine times out of 10, the deer are shot" and sold on, but the practice of using lurcher dogs to kill deer has also increased.

"People use social media to boast about the prowess and skills of their dogs to boost sales," he said.

Small birds are also lucrative prey for poachers, said Supt Walker.

A pair of bullfinches can make up to €150. They are in demand because when crossed with a canary they produce a hybrid bird called a mule which has an exceptional voice.

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"I walked into a shed in Carlow recently where one guy had 25 wild birds and I have come across incidents of finding birds in hot presses," he said.

Traps

"With the different traps and decoys these gangs have, they could catch up to 50 wild birds a night."

Supt Walker recently held an anti-poaching training event in conjunction with the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Kildare, and over 65 gardaí attended.

"They attended because they have an interest and wanted to be trained up in it. I myself got an interest in it when I was a young garda in Baltinglass and was dealing with poaching cases."

He has called for more joined-up thinking by stakeholders to tackle poaching in a similar manner to the UK's Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW).

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