WHIDDY Island in Bantry Bay has one of the worst track records regarding the trapping of hares for coursing, according to a national animal rights organisation.
A report recently filed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and published on its official website, confirms that at least two coursing clubs have been involved in the capture of hares from the pretty island.
The report states that 26 hares were removed by the Bandon and Carey’s Cross coursing club last November 12th. At a subsequent coursing event, a number of the captured Whiddy Island hares were ‘pinned down’ and injured, according to a NPWS ranger who attended it.
Describing the practice of trapping hares – though not illegal – as Whiddy’s ‘ugly secret’, John FitzGerald of the Irish Council Against Bloodsports (ICABS) says that coursing clubs have been quietly netting hares on this renowned haven of tranquility for their baiting sessions.
Coursers claim that 26 hares were later returned to Whiddy but with no wildlife ranger present, it cannot be confirmed, said an ICABS spokesperson, adding: ‘In December, more hares were sadly taken from Whiddy Island for coursing in Clonakilty.’
‘It is a disgrace that one of Ireland’s premier tourist assets is now known to be associated with hare coursing, a cruel bloodsport that most other countries have banned,’ he told The Southern Star.
‘The Whiddy Island hares, that many people, including wildlife protection campaigners, assumed were free from human interference, can be targeted and snatched from this idyllic habitat by the net men. They can, quite legally, be thrown into boxes and transported to the mainland. Following weeks of unnatural captivity they are forced to run from pairs of hyped-up muzzled dogs,’ he added.
Mr FitzGerald said: ‘We should treasure our wildlife heritage and our unique tourist appeal. The continued legality of hare coursing and its infringement on beauty spots like Whiddy projects a negative image of our country.’
A local Whiddy islander confirmed to The Southern Star that hares had been trapped on the island, but queried the high numbers being reported. They also added that coursing events have been taking place on the island for some time.
DJ Histon of the Irish Coursing Club told The Southern Star: ‘Bandon have complied with their licence conditions and all hares netted (70) were released at the conclusion of their annual meeting, held last December. This represents a 100% release of hares netted.
He said Bandon’s coursing club plays a significant role in terms of hare conservation. ‘They work on a twelve month basis policing the hare preserves for illegal activity. They work with farmers and landowners on how best to manage the hare’s habitat,’ Mr Histon added.
‘The biggest single threat to the hare population is the relatively unchecked level of illegal hunting conducted with packs of unmuzzled dogs on a twelve month basis without any regard for wildlife or property,’ he concluded.