FEARS are mounting that golden eagles could become extinct in Ireland for the second time in a century after the latest poisoning of one of the birds of prey.
The 10-month-old eagle, named Conall, who was found dead on a Sligo mountain, is the second golden eagle to die of poisoning in less than a year. And he is the ninth released bird of prey to be poisoned in two-and-a-half years.
Last night, Lorcan O'Toole from the Golden Eagle Trust warned that there was now "a very real possibility" that golden eagles could become extinct for the second time in a century.
"The issue is about the illegal use of poison within Irish farming. It is a practice being carried out by less than 3pc of farmers but it is having a very big effect on our project.
"There is now a real possibility that if poisoning continues golden eagles could become extinct for the second time in a little over a century," he said.
The latest victim, born and reared in a Donegal eyrie in 2009, was found on Truskmore Mountain on the border of Sligo and Leitrim around two weeks ago, thanks to the satellite tag it was carrying. Toxicology tests showed that nitroxynil, which had been poured over the fleece of a dead newborn or aborted lamb, poisoned it.
Nitroxynil is found in the veterinary medicine Throdax, which is used to treat liver fluke. But lab results showed that the levels found were up to 30 times greater than those used to treat an adult sheep for liver fluke, suggesting that this was a case of deliberate poisoning.
Gardai in Sligo have commenced an investigation.
Almost exactly a year ago, another satellite-tagged golden eagle was found poisoned in west Donegal, just prior to lambing season.
Mr O'Toole said that the loss of up to 10pc of the Irish golden eagle population within a year meant that the golden eagle reintroduction project could fail unless the unlawful use of toxins by a small percentage of farmers ceased.
A total of nine white-tailed eagles, golden eagles and kites have been confirmed poisoned with four different poisons in all four provinces.
Late last year, the Golden Eagle Trust lodged a formal complaint with the European Union concerning the failure of the Irish Government to implement legislation protecting Ireland's rare scavenging birds of prey.
"We believe the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food needs to state unequivocally that the poisoning of any 'Annex 1' bird of prey such as eagles and kites is a breach of the Cross Compliance measures, which are a precondition of the Single Farm Payments they distribute," said Mr O'Toole.
He added that the Irish Agri Food sector also needed to take on what he described as the "glaring contradiction" between the highly lauded promotion of Irish food as quality produce and the emerging evidence of the ongoing highly damaging illegal use of toxins among some non-compliant farm food producers.
Irish Cattle and Sheep Association (ICSA) president Gabriel Gilmartin, who lives in north Sligo close to where the dead eagle was found, last night condemned the incident. But he called for greater communication between the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the farming community about the location of the birds of prey.
"I live near Truskmore Mountain and I never knew there was an eagle there. As far as I knew the eagles were in Glenveagh National Park in Co Donegal. I believe if farmers were made aware that an eagle had come into the area they would be more careful," he said.
The Golden Eagle Project was launched in 2000 in Donegal to re-establish a viable self-sustaining breeding population of eagles in the north-west of Ireland for the first time in almost 100 years.