Monday, September 29, 2008

IRELAND NEWS: Invasive Muntjac Deer to be Shot on Sight

TINY, four-footed Chinese "invaders" are to be shot on sight in Irish forests.

The 19-inch-high Muntjac deer have been brought into the country and released illegally into the wild, Department of the Environment officials believe.

The non-native species, also known as "barking" deer, pose a threat to the Irish deer populations of Sika, Red and Fallow.

The Department's experts say the non-native populations are susceptible to, or may act as a reservoir for, bovine TB, foot and mouth disease, Lyme's disease and bluetongue virus.

They also have a reputation for damaging crops.

The Muntjac have been spotted in Co Wicklow in three separate areas 15km apart and some have already been shot by licenced hunters.

Now Environment Minister John Gormley has declared "open season" on the Muntjac for the next 12 months under the Wildlife Act. Native deer species are protected and can only be hunted during very specific parts of the year. But licenced deer hunters will be able to hunt Muntjac throughout the State subject to the permission of the landowner.

"The introduction of the Muntjac deer in Britain has resulted in significant damage to commercial woodland, farm crops and gardens over the years," Mr Gormley said.

"I am of the view that this authorisation ensure that the species does not gain a foothold in the country.

"My Department are examining further measures with a view to eradicating this alien species before it becomes established."

The Muntjac's small size and its liking for woodland habitats together with its extended breeding season, allows it to build up numbers and reach high densities quickly.

The Department warned it is a criminal offence to introduce and release Muntjac deer and Mr Gormley said they would vigorously pursue "any individual introducing invasive species into the State."