Efforts to revive Ireland’s once extinct red kite population have been dealt a blow after a bird released in the Wicklow mountains was found shot dead, it was revealed today.
The bird, set free six weeks ago with 29 other kites, had been hit with shotgun pellets and was found on farmland north of Arklow yesterday.
Gardaí are investigating the killing which is believed to have happened between Sunday and yesterday.
Kites are protected under the Wildlife Act and have also been awarded the highest level of protection under European law.
The Golden Eagle Trust (GET), which is managing the project with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Welsh Kite Trust, said the loss was a major blow.
“Obviously, after all the hard work and support for the project in Wicklow, nationally and in Wales, it is very worrying to recover a shot kite so soon after they have been released,” GET project manager Damian Clarke said. “But I must stress that the level of support from all the local farmers, landowners and local gun clubs and shooting syndicates has been excellent.”
Red kites were driven to extinction in Ireland from shooting, trapping and poisoning even though they pose no threat to either game birds or livestock. Kites have a wingspan of up to 1.8m but with weak beaks and claws they are not powerful predators and feed mostly on carrion in the winter and small mammals, crows, insects and worms.
“We hope that all landowners can advise people shooting on their property that red kites must be left unmolested. These species are fully protected by the law and it is illegal to shoot red kites, by mistake or otherwise,” Mr Clarke said. “It is very unfortunate that we should recover a shot kite during National Heritage week – it once again highlights the importance that everyone needs to play a role in protecting Ireland’s natural and cultural Heritage.”
The red kite programme is one of three schemes to return previously extinct birds of prey to the Irish skies. Pairs of golden eagles have been released in Donegal and one set have bred successfully while in Co Kerry sea eagles have been returned to parkland around Killarney.