Fur flies over €130,000 bill to count elusive otters
Environmental crusader John Gormley's efforts to count the animals of the nation continued yesterday when it was confirmed that a census of otters in the Republic has been commissioned.
The Environment Minister has commissioned Queen's University in Belfast to determine our otter population at a cost of €130,000 to taxpayers.
The Green Party leader has already commissioned nationwide surveys of bats and frogs.
The School of Biological Sciences won the contract to conduct the survey on behalf of the Department of Environment.
It comes hot on the heels of a recent controversy when the minister signed off on a survey of Ireland's frogs at a cost of €70,000 to taxpayers. In recent days, €60,000 was paid to count the native Irish species.
Fine Gael branded the level of spending as "outrageous" in light of country's dire economic plight.
But wildlife officials in the Department of the Environment have vigorously defended such projects as they frequently prevent native Irish animal species from becoming extinct.
Otters -- known as 'water dogs' -- are native to Ireland and notoriously reclusive. They are found in rivers, lakes, marshes, estuaries and around the coast -- but not in the sea. They are nocturnal, which is why they are rarely seen here.
Tenders to conduct the census came in response to a European Court of Justice judgment that Ireland is failing to adequately protect the mammal.
The otter is protected through the EU Habitats Directive and anyone found guilty of killing one faces fines of up to €63,487 and/or two years' imprisonment.
It is now one of the most threatened mammals in Ireland. Recent survey work has shown the species has declined by 18pc in the last 25 years.