November 3rd 2010
The latest evidence of the threat facing the Irish Hare should focus the mind of everyone on this island concerned about the future of this persecuted and now endangered species.
It confirms a situation that the National Parks and Wildlife Service clearly knew about and understood more than a year ago. In its submission to the Convention on Biological Diversity in May of 2009, the NPWS warned that the Irish Hare is "experiencing pressure from loss of suitable habitat and hunting and consequently its status is considered poor".
Some of the contributory factors to the hare’s plight have long been known to the Departments of Agriculture and Environment: The emergence in rural Ireland of huge monocultural tracts of silage grass and cereals, and the wholesale destruction of hedgerow, have led to the disappearance of hare colonies from areas where they once thrived.
But the impact of enclosed coursing on the Irish Hare must not be overlooked. More than 7000 hares are netted each year for coursing. It is not the level of outright killing or injuries inflicted at coursing events that poses the greatest threat to the hare in this practise: It is the sum total of the treatment meted out to the hares from the day they are captured, right through captivity, up to the day they are coursed and, if uninjured, released back into the wild.
The Irish Hare is one of a number of wild animal species that are vulnerable to a condition called Capture Myopathy. This is a stress-related condition brought on by subjecting the animal to a set of experiences that are unnatural to it.
In the hare’s case, it has to cope with being taken abruptly or violently from familiar terrain (its de facto “home” in the countryside), placed in a box or crate and driven off in a van or the boot of car, herded into a compound, dosed, cruelly ear-tagged, and “trained” to run in a straight line from pairs of greyhounds.
All of this manhandling serves to induce Capture Myopathy: the netting, the rough handling by coursing club personnel, varying humidity in the boxes they are conveyed in from one venue to another; the transportation itself; changes in diet from a high roughage natural diet to a concentrated diet with little fibre.
Add to this the injuries and further stress endured as they collide with each other or the wire in the paddocks and the obvious terror of coursing day, and you have a combination of factors and circumstances inimical to the future welfare and survival of hares used in coursing.
A hare is never the same again after being through the unnatural coursing experience. Hares affected by Capture Myopathy may die prematurely as a result of the ordeal.
The conditions attached to the license granted by the Department of the Environment permitting the capture of hares for coursing are hopelessly inadequate to protect the hares from the savagery and ill-treatment that is inherent in the blood sport.
The conditions do not, for example, prevent the re-coursing of hares at a two or three-day meeting…only re-coursing on the same day. And there is no provision for independent supervision of the netting process, where many hares become entangled in nets and suffer fatal injuries. Nor do the license conditions provide for videotaping of coursing events to ensure that ANY of the conditions are even observed.
The Departments of Agriculture and Environment need to prioritise the protection of the Irish Hare. In addition to persuading farmers to adopt measures to enhance its conservation status, would it be too much to expect that both departments might address the deliberate and completely indefensible exploitation by coursing clubs of a creature renowned in our folklore that is also a treasured part of our wildlife heritage?
(Campaign for the
Abolition of Cruel Sports)
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