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NPWS recommends suspension of Rathdowney coursing club licence after disappearance of hares
16 December 2016

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has dismissed a claim by a coursing club in County Laois that the disappearance of 40 hares last month was as a result of the animals escaping through a hole in a fence.

A Wildlife Service investigation - prompted by a Dail question from Clare Daly TD - found that there was no evidence to support the claim, before recommending that the club be prevented from catching any more hares this season or holding a re-scheduled coursing meeting in January.

Deputy Daly's question highlighted reports that at Rathdowney coursing club, "three dogs broke into the hare compound and mauled and butchered about 78 hares and that the dogs were subsequently put down."

In a report seen by ICABS, the head of the NPWS said that the hare holding pen was inspected by rangers but they found no evidence of blood marks which would indicate the hares were attacked but he went on to concede - perhaps crucially - "it is to be noted, however, that NPWS visits took place many days after the alleged incident" (i.e. ten days after). It is also relevant to point out that captured hares are not always confined in the hare holding pen and that any evidence of an attack by dogs would not necessarily have been found in the pen.

According to the coursers, the number of hares captured at the time was 40. They said they noticed they were all gone at midday on November 19th (three weeks before their 2-day meeting was due to take place). They pointed to a hole in the wire of a perimenter fence as the cause of the disappearance.

The NPWS treated this explanation with scepticism. "The hole through which it is alleged the hares escaped seemed to be too small for a hare to pass through and if indeed a hare could pass through it, then an explanation would be required as to how all 40 hares would have gone through it," Principal NPWS Officer John Fitzgerald stated. "It is surprising that there was no evidence of any fur on the wires around the hole through which the hares are supposed to have escaped."

During a follow-up inspection of the hare enclosure on December 1st, tne NPWS regional manager was shown the hole in the fence but he considered it too small for a hare to get through.

"There was no fur or hair on the wires," he stated. "On the face of it, this does not tally with the ICC report which indicates 'evidence of fur'...if all 40 hares held in the enclosure on 18th and 19th November escaped at the small hole the NPWS inspected on 1st December, then it is remarkable how fur- and hair-free it was at the time of our inspection."

He went on to say that "if the Irish Coursing Club continues to give credence to the Rathdowney Coursing Club claim that there was a hole through which the hares allegedly escaped, then it is equally possible that a dog or dogs could have entered the pen via the small hole. This could be a logical conclusion which was not made by ICC based on their own report."

The report revealed that the rangers who visited the field saw 21 newly caught hares which the club said they had netted since the disappearance of the previous hares. The coursers said the hares had been caught adjacent to the coursing field but none of them had ear tags, meaning that none of them were from the original tagged 40. "This seems remarkable in the circumstances," the NPWS report remarks.

Further casting doubt on the coursing club's version of events, the NPWS noted that if the 40 hares had indeed escaped, there was "no great urgency" in retrieving them. For example, it emerged that the day after the incident, the club had caught four hares - not at the claimed escape location but 16 kilometres away. No more hares were captured until a full week later.

"One would have expected that immediately after the 19th, that all stops would have been pulled out, with the club making a major effort to recapture hares in the immediate surrounding area - particularly so when the 20th was a Sunday when people would most likely have been available...The Divisional Manager expressed the view that as this was not done, one would be forgiven for concluding that the club knew that the hares were not there and hence a major effort at recapture would be futile."

The NPWS concluded that Rathdowney coursing club breached a licence condition which, ironically, instructs them to "take particular care of your hare stocks" and "ensure that a reliable, knowledgeable person is given the responsibility of looking after all aspects of the hares' welfare". The NPWS recommended that Rathdowney be suspended from the hare coursing licence until the end of the season and that the 21 hares in its possession be released under the supervision of NPWS staff.


Contact Minister Heather Humphreys now and urge her to stop licensing hare coursing and immediately revoke the 2016-17 licence she issued.

Heather Humphreys, TD
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs
Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
23 Kildare Street
Dublin 2

Tel: +353 (0)1 631 3802 or +353 (0)1 631 3800
Tweet to: @HHumphreysFG

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Tel: +353 (0)1-631 3802 or (01) 631 3800 (Heather Humphreys)
Tel: +353 (0)1-6194020 (Enda Kenny)
Tel: +353 (0)1-607 2000 (Michael Creed)

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Ireland: Ban Cruel Hare Coursing

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