Farmers have been urged to be on the lookout for unusual creatures following an increase in the number of invasive species such as raccoons, wallabies and chipmunks found living in the wild across the country.
Over the past five years the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) has recorded thousands of invasive mammal species living in the countryside, including 21 separate sightings of coypu, a giant South American rat which weighs as much as 9kg and can grow up to 60cm in length.
Nine of the sightings have been in Co Cork, including in Kinsale, Rosscarbery and Cork city. There have also been confirmed sightings in Galway, Tipperary, Limerick, Dublin and Northern Ireland.
There have also been confirmed sightings of wild boar, white-toothed shrew and bank vole in rural Ireland in recent years.
These species can cause damage to fences and other farm infrastructure, and some can also carry dangerous farm diseases such as foot and mouth and swine flu.
According to Colette O'Flynn of the NBDC, many of these animals will die out after a few years, but some may adapt and reproduce in the countryside.
"In recent years, we are seeing more of these exotic species in the wild," said Ms O'Flynn.
"Recently we are seeing more species that would be known in the pet trade, like chipmunk and coypus, as well as species that are kept on farm holdings for hunting and have escaped, like muntjac deer and wild boar, which are essentially feral pigs.
"Many of these species will simply die out after a few years - the climate may not suit them or their food source isn't there. Often these species don't do well - they might exist for one generation and then they are gone - but there is a small percentage that survive and then thrive and they can take over.
"They can have a significant negative impact, either by competing with native species for space or interfering with the food chain that exists here. It's hard to know what impact they have.
According to the NBDC the risk of these wild animals transmitting TB is low but a greater risk could come through the spread of other diseases such as foot and mouth and swine flu. Ms O'Flynn has urged farmers to photograph and report any unusual animals or tracks they find on their land.
Tracks and trails
"Farmers would come across unusual species of deer often enough and we urge them to report these sightings to us. We've also started to see an upsurge in coypu in Cork and Tipperary - that's a very large rat which lives close to waterways.
"If a farmer sees unusual animals or tracks or trails they should report it to us.
"Farmers know their land. So if they come across something unusual we would ask them to take photographs of them and send them to the National Biodiversity Database and we will follow up on them.
"Any hoofed animals, like the feral pigs for example, could carry foot and mouth. You can cull a herd but it is very difficult to deal with an outbreak in the wild. They could also have things like swine flu which could be transferred to the domestic stock.
"We haven't seen any issues with TB but there was a situation where a sable [a species of marten] was brought in from Russia into the Kinsale area and was found to have rabies. So there can be issues."
"Some farmers might also keep some of these wild boar or hybrid pigs and it is very important for them to ensure that they don't escape and make it into the wild.
"Once they get into the wild and become feral they can have a big impact, both on nearby agriculture and on the wildlife as well."
Giant rats, racoons, chipmunks, Chinese muntjacs and wild boar among the invasive species roaming the countryside