THREE men have been arrested by gardai investigating deer poaching in a vast area from the Dublin mountains to Kilkenny after one boasted of their exploits on Facebook.
Senior sources have revealed the suspect used the social networking site to brag that he had killed 15 deer in one night – and that gardai would not catch him.
But detectives working on Operation Bambi, supported by armed Regional Support Unit officers, swooped on three properties in Co Carlow and nabbed three men in their 20s.
A source revealed: "Ultimately this individual's ridiculous boasts about the deer he has shot on online and other forums led directly to the three arrests."
Gardai confirmed the suspect has been questioned about using a high-powered rifle to shoot the animals from the roadside. It is not known how many deer are poached in Ireland each year but carcasses can fetch between €60 and €200.
About 4,500 people legitimately hold deer hunting licences from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and as many as 32,000 were culled as part of last year's hunting season, according to the Wild Deer Association of Ireland.
A third of Ireland's deer herd live in the forests and farmland of Co Wicklow while the endangered red deer species is mainly found in Kerry and Donegal.
The Office of Public Works confirmed that the 500-strong deer population in the Phoenix Park is protected around the clock by park ranger patrols.
Lorcan Scott, NPWS conservation officer for Carlow, Kilkenny and South Wexford Lorcan Scott described poaching is "a widespread problem".
He said: "We have a much higher instance of activity to supply the Christmas market. Venison is very much a winter food and so anyone who is illegally, commercially poaching at night is trying to fill orders.
"With the downturn, these fellas with rifles and no jobs are restless and have too much time on their hands."
WDAI director Damien Hannigan welcomed yesterday's arrests saying that the deer population is being "decimated" by poaching.
And he revealed that his organisation was made aware of the case of two deer shot near Rathdangan in Co Wicklow at the weekend.
He said: "They've just been shot and dumped on the side of the main road. It's typical of what we're facing."