'Significant' cull of deer taking place in Killarney National Park branded as 'mass slaughter'

Irish Red deer on the slopes of Mangerton Mountain, Killarney National Park.Photo:Valerie OSullivan
Irish Red deer on the slopes of Mangerton Mountain, Killarney National Park.Photo:Valerie OSullivan

Anne Lucey

A "significant" cull of deer is taking place in the Killarney National Park, with the unique Killarney red deer, the country’s oldest largest mammal, targeted alongside the non-native sika, the National Parks and Wildlife Service has confirmed.

More than 120 deer have been culled so far and the shooting is being carried out “only” by trained NPWS staff.

However, the Irish Deer Commission has strongly criticised the current Killarney cull branding it as “mass slaughter” and saying sika rather than reds should be the focus.

Deer numbers had to be kept at sustainable levels and culls might need to be carried out annually in Killarney to protect woodland and other habitats, the NPWS said.

Locally, calls have been growing for control of deer numbers because of collisions motorists, damage to farmland and gardens and to ancient woodland in the park. Earlier this year a herd of sika were found starving to death on Inisfallen Island.

Red deer are regularly to be seen in the town centre and urban gardens, because of an increase in numbers and or pressure on fodder. A census of deer giving exact numbers of both species is yet to be finalised. 

Large numbers of deer were being culled at night by shooting “randomly” into herds, the commission  which aims to advise the Government on deer management and conservation said.

Random night time shooting brought stress on the herd and was a danger to motorists too, said spokesman Damien Hannigan.

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“This approach causes stress to deer, and the herd will spread into new areas crossing roads and bringing them into conflict with motorists. The herd will also form large herds for protection – an example of this has been seen in recent days where a herd in excess of 200 deer was seen in one area of the Park,” Mr Hannigan said.

Kerry Deer and their management had become an emotive topic  with the deer in a tug of war between landowners and conservationists, the tourism industry and the general public, he said.

Management of the unique Killarney red deer herd should be based on factual scientific evidence and not as a result of unqualified political pressure, he said, calling for selective careful culling of the species which had existed for 6,000 years in Killarney.

“A specific focus should be on the estimated 200 non-native Sika deer in the Park with an outside in approach where deer are culled on the fringes of the park over a prolonged period, which reduces stress and avoids deer spreading to avoid the current mass slaughter,” Mr Hannigan  said.

The Commission was asking the minister to consider appointing part-time voluntary rangers with specific expertise  in the  management of deer. It also wanted a deer management group in Kerry made up of farmers, hunters, and conservationists under the guidance of the NPWS.

Meanwhile, the NPWS has defended the cull. Deer numbers were increasing in range and number, it said.

“There is a significant challenge in attempting to balance the demands of agriculture, forestry and conservation with the need to ensure that deer populations occupying the same land resources are managed at sustainable levels, and in a responsible and ethical manner,” it said.

The current cull was “on foot of a number of recent reports and surveys of the deer population,” the and the shooting of deer in the Park is carried out only by NPWS professional staff members, who are fully trained, competent, expert and licenced in the use of firearms,” it said.

The Irish Deer Commission and the NPWS will  hold a Red Deer Rut walk and Wildlife Photography talk on Sunday October 14, in Killarney National Park The event is free of charge and the deer rut is one of the most amazing natural events, taking place each autumn for thousands of  years in the area, the organisers said.

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