DEER are being smuggled into Ireland purely for the purpose of being shot by hunters, wildlife experts claim.
Chairman of the Irish Wildlife Trust Padraic Fogarty confirmed that there had been sightings of the muntjac, a deer about the size of a large dog, in Wexford.
The muntjac are not native to Ireland and cannot be imported legally. Because of their small size, they pose an additional risk to trees as they may be able to slip through fencing designed to keep out our own deer species, Mr Fogarty said.
Meanwhile, Peter Cosgrove, from the Scottish-based environmental consultancy Envirocentre, said insiders had warned him about the problem of smuggled deer.
He urged border officials to be more vigilant, as he feared Scottish deer were being brought illegally to Ireland.
"We have people who have their ear to the ground who are concerned about it and they are getting more and more worried," he said.
"We have had several different people saying this is going on and that it's becoming a problem. Nobody has yet been caught in the act."
Mr Cosgrove added that if the non-native species of deer start breeding in Ireland they could wreak havoc -- damaging forests by overgrazing and out-competing native animals.
The animals could also spread diseases from mainland Britain to Ireland. Usually, animals transported from one country to another must spend time in quarantine.
It is illegal to introduce an alien species into the wild in the Republic and in the North. There is a policy to kill on sight any of the non-native deer that are spotted.
Muntjac were first introduced from China to Bedfordshire in the early 20th century and spread across England, Wales and the Scottish Borders.
A common name for muntjac is "barking deer", resulting from the repeated, loud noise they make when under threat.