Fears for future of hares - BBC Countryfile report
15 November 2018
A BBC Countryfile report (11 Nov 2018) raises fears that the horrendous rabbit-killing virus, Myxomatosis, is responsible for the deaths of large numbers of hares across Britain.
"I was getting more and more reports from people finding bodies of these beautiful animals with clear signs of a painful death," programme reporter Tom Heap says in his introduction. "First fears were that this could be the horrific rabbit disease Myxomatosis - since the 1950s, this highly contagious virus has killed generations of rabbits. It's devastating - badly swollen eyes and ears, breathing problems, convulsions, then death."
A landowner interviewed on the programme estimated that three quarters of hares in his area had died, with several carcasses found along the margins of his fields. Meanwhile, a Myxomatosis expert said that despite the UK's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs having yet to confirm myxomatosis in hares, dead hares she examined showed definite symptoms of the virus.
Countryfile outlined that the jump of the virus from rabbits to hares was proven by government tests in Spain earlier this year. The tests were carried out after numerous hares were found dead.
"Don't think being an island nation keeps us safe." Tom Heap warned, as he arrived to an island off the coast of Suffolk. The nature reserve has seen a "devastating downturn" in hare numbers. The remains of six hares - or half the island's population - have been discovered in recent weeks.
A representative of Suffolk Wildlife Trust noted that hares are already declining due to other other factors and that "any more pressure on the population is really pretty concerning".
Here in Ireland, Myxomatosis is prevalent in rabbits but so far there have been no confirmed cases in hares. Quoted in the Irish Times of October 16th, a Department of Agriculture spokesperson stated: “Recent reports of myxomatosis in brown hares in the UK is of interest, and Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine regional veterinary laboratories have been made aware of this finding. There have been no reports of myxomatosis-like syndromes in Irish hares, nor have there been any confirmed cases..."
The government should immediately take precautions in the face of what could be a death blow for the Irish Hare if it reaches our shores and starts claiming the lives of hares. It presents another very good reason for Minister Josepha Madigan to withdraw the 2018-19 hare coursing licence she issued and stop all forms of hare hunting. The licence allows coursers to net thousands of hares from the wild and keep them in activity for weeks before using them as live lures for dogs to chase.
"The hare is a solitary creature, but in coursing up to 80 captive hares at a time are held in compounds or paddocks in the days or weeks prior to the holding of coursing fixtures," John Fitzgerald of the Campaign for the Abolition of Cruel Sports states in the Irish Times report. "If any hare has picked up the disease and is among those captured by the net-men, the animal could quickly infect large numbers of other hares. This represents a potentially grave threat to our hare population."
How did myxomatosis originally get to Ireland? In a past report, nature columnist Michael Viney wrote that "'progressive' farming leaders" shamefully introduced "the plague of myxomatosis" to Ireland in 1954 - "a secret share-out of skin from a victim sent in the post from the UK was rubbed on rabbits around Leinster and farmers flocked to Castletown to collect diseased rabbits." The rabbits were cruelly targetted because they grazed on meadows and crops.
With warnings from wildlife experts that the species is in trouble, it is now more clear than ever that the Irish Hare must be given full protection. Urgently contact Minister Josepha Madigan and the National Parks and Wildlife Service and demand that they revoke the 2018-19 hare coursing licence and end all forms of hare persecution.
Minister Josepha Madigan
Minister for Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht
Phone: +353 (0)1 631 3800
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Gerry.Leckey@ahg.gov.ie, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Tweet to: @josephamadigan
Director, National Parks and Wildlife Service
Phone: +353 (0)1 888 3242
See the cruelty of hare coursing on our Youtube channel
(If you have time, please compose your own personal letter. Otherwise, feel free to send the short sample letter below)
I am one of the majority who want hare coursing outlawed. I am writing to demand that you revoke the 2018-19 hare netting licence that has shamefully been issued.
In coursing, hares suffer and die at all stages - during the capture, during the time they are kept in captivity and during the coursing meetings where they run for their lives in front of greyhounds. Among the injuries recorded are broken legs, damaged toes and dislocated hips.
I ask you to please act on the wishes of the majority, show compassion and end this cruelty.
The Irish Hare is a protected species but an exemption for coursing in the Animal Health and Welfare Act means coursers are not liable for prosecution for their cruelty. Join us in our call to the government to remove the exemption and provide full and permanent protection to this cherished species.
Contact An Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar and ask him to ban hare coursing and give permanent protection to hares.
An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar
Department of the Taoiseach,
Upper Merrion St, Dublin 2
Telephone: +353 (0)1-6194020
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tweet to: @campaignforLeo Tweet to @campaignforLeo
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Express your support for a ban on coursing. Sign and share the petitions
Ireland: Ban cruel hare coursing
Ban Blood Sports in Ireland
The licence which allows cruel hare coursing
The licence issued by Josepha Madigan which allows coursers to snatch thousands of hares from the wild for use as live lures for greyhounds to chase.
Department of Agriculture on alert for myxomatosis in hares
Reports of death of large numbers of brown hares in parts of England
Irish Times, Oct 16, 2018
by Kevin O'Sullivan Enviornment & Science Editor
The Department of Agriculture has said there will be increased vigilance throughout Ireland after reports of the death of large numbers of brown hares in parts of England with symptoms which suggest they were infected by the Myxomatosis virus.
If proven, it will confirm the disease has jumped the species barrier, as the virus normally only infects rabbits. Myxomatosis was introduced in Ireland and UK in the 1950s to cull rabbit populations and devastated numbers over subsequent decades.
Populations bounced back as rabbits developed some resistance but the disease, which is spread by blood-sucking insects like fleas and mosquitoes and can result in swelling, blindness and respiratory problems, is still prevalent.
The University of East Anglia, together with Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk Wildlife Trust, are warning hares may be succumbing to a mutated form of the virus.
The Department of Agriculture stressed on Monday, however, these reports “do not appear to have any immediate significance for Irish hares”, as they are a different species to the European brown hare which is the most prevalent in the UK.
Regional veterinary laboratories in the Republic have, nonetheless, been alerted to be vigilant if they come across diseased hares, or if dead hares are presented for post-mortem examination, a spokesman added.
Hares are much rarer than rabbits and there are currently fewer than 818,000 left in the UK, according to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species – that’s 80 per cent fewer than there were 100 years ago.
A National Parks & Wildlife Service survey in 2006-2007 confirmed the absence of brown hare from Ireland while other surveys show the number of brown hares in Northern Ireland is very low; their presence is thought to be due to recent artificial human introductions. The mountain hare and Irish hare are the only native lagomorphs (the family that includes hares and rabbits) found in Ireland.
“Recent reports of myxomatosis in brown hares in the UK is of interest, and Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine regional veterinary laboratories have been made aware of this finding. There have been no reports of myxomatosis-like syndromes in Irish hares, nor have there been any confirmed cases,” the spokesman added. Increased vigilance
“On present knowledge and information, the reports from the UK, by themselves, provide no basis for any concern that the detection of a disease in a different species in the UK is any specific threat to Irish hares,” he added.
“Having said that, increased vigilance is indicated and has been actioned where we are notified of sick hares or in the event that we have Irish hares presented for post mortem examination.”
The UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has yet to confirm the hares died of myxomatosis. Another culprit could be rabbit haemorrhagic disease.
The Campaign for the Abolition of Cruel Sports said there was justification for an immediate suspension of the coursing season in Ireland as “all the evidence points to a jump of Myxomatosis from rabbits to hares”.
CACS spokesman John Fitzgerald said: “If the disease can transfer from rabbits to hares in Britain, there is no reason whatsoever to expect that the same cannot happen here in Ireland.”
The threat to the Irish hare could be exacerbated by the unnatural practices intrinsic to enclosed or “park”coursing, he said.
“The hare is a solitary creature, but in coursing up to 80 captive hares at a time are held in compounds or paddocks in the days or weeks prior to the holding of coursing fixtures. If any hare has picked up the disease and is among those captured by the net-men, the animal could quickly infect large numbers of other hares,” he added.
This aspect of coursing – the holding of hares in captivity – “represented a potentially grave threat to our hare population”, he said.
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