THIS shocking picture shows one of two pregnant deer shot dead by illegal poachers on a hunting estate in Poyntzpass.
The animals’ bodies were found by gamekeepers at Drumbanagher Estate on Saturday.
The deer are believed to have suffered agonising deaths after the poachers used illegal calibre bullets - or so-called ‘fox calibre’ rifles - which are not a humane method of killing deer.
It is likely if the poachers had not have been disturbed, the deer carcases would have ended up on the black market.
Conor Douglas, a stalker at Drumbanagher Estate, said that it appeared one of the red deer hind had dragged herself for some distance after being shot, only to die later from blood loss.
“The animal was probably alive and suffering for several hours after being shot by the poachers. It appears that (this doe) was shot close to a road near to where she was found,” explained Conor.
The gamekeeper revealed that the grim discovery had been “upsetting” for the Drumbanagher Estate team which had enjoyed having the small deer herd living in the grounds. “The deer have been a welcome feature which, up until now, had escaped the attention of poachers,” he added.
He stressed that gamekeepers patrolled the grounds, including where the deer were found, on a daily basis, but despite their presence no suspicious activity had been detected.
“Clearly these poachers are operating under the cover of darkness and probably in the very early hours of the morning,” he added.
Venison produce on the black market can command prices of £100 or more per carcase making the illegal practice lucrative for poachers - even outside the traditional hunting season.
Dave McCullough, secretary of the Northern Ireland Deer Society said he thinks illegal poaching is on the increase in the Province, partly down to the fact that deer were being introduced to more and more new areas, as well as the price of deer meat.
“It’s a growing activity,” he said of illegal poaching. “Deer are now being deliberately released into very isolated areas and that is increasing the number of deer. “Even though there are regulations in place on how venison is sold, the price on the black market make it attractive to poachers to sell it privately.”
However, Dave warned the practice could pose a health risk, as deer can carry diseases that could be transmitted to humans via the food chain. “Deer can carry TB (tuberlocious) for example. Legally, deer carcases must be fully inspected before they can be consumed,” he revealed, before adding that he was aware of one carcase being condemned in Scotland due to infection.
“Not only is there a food risk but potentially there is a chance that someone could end up wounded, or fatally shot, by illegal poachers,” he said. “The deer population must be managed but it must be managed in a humane manner. The minimum legal calibre for shooting deer is .243. Anything smaller, then you will cause undue suffering to the animal.”
Police are now investigating the weekend incident and a PSNI spokeswoman said, “Deer are protected by law within the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. It is an offence to enter land without the consent of the owner, or occupier, or other lawful authority, with the intention of killing or taking deer.
“Information about deer poaching can be passed to a local police station by contacting 0845 600 8000.”