Wednesday 21 March 2018

Leave vulnerable hares in peace

WHEN, recently, I was camera-framed for a TV shoot on Beaches at Dublin's famous bathing place, Dollymount Strand, I thought of Bull Island's famous hares and the iconic newspaper and magazine photographs of them, startled, alert, on the golf club greens in times past.

Such casual and wonderful pictures may not be shot today because the hares are no more or, at least, like the Oglala Sioux chief Sitting Bull's famous observation about his own people: "There are very few of us left."

The North Bull's legendary Irish or mountain hares (Lepus timidus hibernicus) were, several years ago, reduced to a mere four or five specimens on this windswept 285ha, 5km island of sand and marram grass that is unique to the capital. Where once there was a thriving population, now they were almost gone. Then, in a year or so, they were saved from extinction in a bold conservation move with a planned migration to the island from the plains of Mosney.

This seemed to work for a time and the handful increased to around 30, but not many of the Meath travellers survived because of what is called 'capture myopathy', a combination of fear and anxiety ending in death.

A veterinarian has given an opinion that once hares are manhandled it becomes impossible for them to avoid stress. Can you imagine the terror when they are threatened and chased by dogs?

Few of the relaxed folk sitting in their cars gazing out at the breezy vistas of Dublin Bay, or watching the manoeuvres of the sand sailors manipulating their kites to catch the wind, would be aware that among the dunes rising behind there might be family pets wreaking havoc among vulnerable wild creatures. The chase goes on for the dogs released from their restraints. Their owners do not seem to know, or indeed care. Anyway, their dogs did not kill any birds, or indeed hares. But chasing and disturbance leads to death from trauma.

This is what Dr Donald Broom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, has to say: "When a mammal like a hare is chased by a predator like a dog it will show physiological changes associated with extreme fear."

Such extreme responses, he points out, can result in reduced life expectancy and risk of cardiovascular breakdown and, whether the hare is caught or not, its welfare will be very poor afterwards.

Thousands of Dubliners visit Bull Island in all weathers and in all seasons. Many are dog owners and many have a responsible attitude to their pets and the environment and pay attention to the official notices forbidding dogs to run unchecked. Some others do not.

You will notice kind-looking folk unleashing their favourites for 'a little exercise' while remaining in their cars listening to the radio. This is bewildering and such people must stop doing this.

One official view is that, sooner rather than later, all dogs will be banned from the North Bull. Such a move would call for much policing work by wardens. But the remaining hares, and perhaps a further reintroduction of animals, would be left in peace and the females would not be forced to give birth at the soft margins of the island where, in the past, leverets have been swept away by the incoming tide.

Sunday Independent

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