Coursing abuse and deceit revealed
4th February, 2002
Documents obtained by the Irish Council Against Blood Sports under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the ongoing abuse that is live hare coursing and how the coursers break the flimsy rules that apply to their sick “sport”.
Reports and correspondence relating to the 2000/01 and 2002/02 coursing seasons, obtained under FOI from Duchas (The National Parks & Wildlife Service) and the Department of Agriculture, show that clubs up and down the country are not only breaching their licence conditions, but expecting Duchas to “turn a blind eye”, according to a Conservation Ranger.
Detailed in the documents (see excerpts below) are incidents of hare “hits”, kills, injured hares left to die, sick hares, suspected re-coursing of hares, the coursing of sick hares, the leaving of injured hares to die without veterinary intervention, and how the coursers thwart the efforts of Conservation Rangers to monitor hare releases after meetings, giving rise to much suspicion of hare trafficking between clubs.
Also noted in the documents are discrepancies in hare kill figures between Duchas who attend a percentage of meetings and the Department of Agriculture. For the year 2000/01, For example, at the three day meeting of Killimer/Kilrush in December 2000, the Dept. of Agriculture (via the Irish Coursing Club - ICC) reported a total of three hares killed. In stark contrast, Duchas, who had a ranger present for the first two days of the meet, reported 10 kills. The Department of Agriculture relies on the ICC control stewards for their figures.
However, ICABS has learned that the Department of Agriculture is now beginning to question the Irish Coursing Club’s figures. In a letter last December from a Department official to Gerry Desmond, CEO, ICC, he is asked to account for the discrepancy at a meeting in Westport last October where the Duchas Conservation Ranger reported 12 hares “hit”, 7 kills, 4 injured and one put down, while the ICC reported 6 hares “hit”, 0 kills, 6 injured and 6 put down.
Department of Agriculture officials have also suggested to the Irish Coursing Club that they consider the introduction of drag coursing at some meetings, even on a trial basis. This was rejected by the ICC.
It is now high time for this highly abusive and outdated activity to be outlawed on the grounds of gratuitous cruelty to animals and serious conservation concerns. Experts are concerned about the decline in the hare population, and have recommended that a national hare survey be undertaken. Meanwhile in the Northern Assembly, legislation has been enacted requiring the two remaining coursing clubs there to justify their need to catch hares from the wild for coursing due to dramatic decline in the hare population in the North.
As the coursing season culminates in a three day festival of cruelty and abuse of timid wild hares at Clonmel, we call on Ministers Joe Walsh (Agriculture) and Sile De Valera (Arts and Heritage), both of whom have responsibility for this barbarism, to do the decent thing by following the example of our near neighbours, Scotland, and introduce legislation outlawing live hare coursing and hunting wild animals with dogs.
Hares mauled, injured, sick, killed
Ballyheigue, October 2001: Duchas Conservation Ranger reported that "hares taken to Dingle were kept overnight and overcrowding in the box may have resulted in the death of two hares."
Liscannor, November 2000: Conservation Ranger reported that "there were nine hits during the day. One hare was severely injured and it was requested that the animal be put down...On the morning of the 2nd day, it was found that four hares had died during the night. The severely injured animal had not been put down but had died." The ranger went on to outline how two hares in the shelter appeared "sick". The following day, the ranger returned and reported the following: "One hare was killed by a dog from which the muzzle came off. Five hares were caught and pinned."
The following day, the ranger and his colleague returned to supervise releases and reported the following: "The two (sick) hares uncoursed from the day before had died. One of the hares hit the previous day had also died. We requested that one hare, obviously unhealthy, be put down. Four hares were found dead in the holding pen. These hares were found in exposed positions in the western part of the pen...During the release of hares, one animal was found to be in very poor health and was put down."
Killimer/Kilrush, December 2000: "There were a large number of hares hit by the dogs (17) and a correspondingly high number of fatalities (10)." Conservation Ranger, Duchas.
Ballinagar Coursing Trials: Conservation Ranger noted "hares were not running directly to the escape and there was noticeably higher number of hits than on a real coursing day. One of the club members explained to me that this day was necessary to train the hares to run up properly for the race day. I also saw money transacted for dogs running."
Bandon & Carey's Cross, November 2000: "Two hares were killed and three were mauled. I also noticed during the day's coursing that at least five dogs were able to follow the hares into the escape. At the end of the first day's coursing, I asked the steward if a box could be provided for mauled hares so that the vet could examine them before they were returned to the escape. The following day no such box was present despite the steward having agreed to my request." Conservation Ranger.
The Ranger reported coursing taking place in "atrocious" weather conditions the next day.
"Two hares were killed and six were mauled. It must however be noted that a large number of dogs found it easy to follow the hares into the escape. I counted at least 15 dogs that were able to follow the hares into the escape. Such was the case that in some courses both dogs were able to follow the hare into the escape. I found the situation to be absolutely ridiculous. It was obvious from the previous day's coursing that the escape entry was inadequate and still the organisers of the meeting did nothing to rectify the problem."
Blarney, January 2001: Conservation Ranger: "No vet was present. Donal and I felt that some of the hares coursed were in poor condition. On two separate occasions, hares refused to run the length of the field and were easily caught by those standing in the field. At the end of the day, we also noticed some injured hares in the box. This begs the question: should these hares have been released and why was there no vet present to treat them?"
On the ranger's report, the following note appeared from his boss: "This is a further example of very doubtful management of hares at coursing meetings and again should be brought to the attention of the ICC. Local clubs seem to think anything goes and are expecting rangers to turn a blind eye to their activities."
Miltown Malbay, October 2000: "Four hares were hit on Saturday; One got away from the hounds and 3 were caught and boxed. These 3 were marked with blue dye and released into the escape. They looked healthy and bounded out of the boxes. By morning, however, these 3 hares were dead in the compound...4 hares were hit on Sunday. 1 was killed on the course; 1 was put down by the vet; 2 were caught and boxed. These 2 were marked and released into the compound. 1 of these marked hares was found dead in the compound on Monday morning. 1 further marked hare was also found dead in the compound...Overall 7 hares died at the meeting." Conservation Ranger.
Cavan, November 11, 2001: Coursing meeting was cancelled due to hares becoming sick in the days leading up to the meeting. According to a Department of Agriculture vet who is also a member of the coursing club, hares were dying at the rate of 2-3 per day, and his opinion was that they had "dietary scour for the following reason: The hares were being fed a diet of oats in the 5 weeks of captivity prior to the coursing, when training commenced, circa end October. The hares were allowed to rest and graze on the lush grass of the coursing field. It seems that they filled up on grass in this interval and that the change from oats to grass caused dietary scour."
One of the Conservation Rangers in attendance stated that "due to the relative lack of hares in the wider countryside, it is necessary to begin catching hares 6-8 weeks before the date of the coursing meeting. Therefore some hares are in confinement for up to 2 months...such a long period of confinement may 'stress' the hares to an extent that makes them susceptible to disease."
"This would be a rational explanation for increased hare mortality rates in confinement and also poses the question: Is such confinement acceptable if it threatens the sustainability of hare coursing. Also, what is the threat to the wild Irish hare population? What are the likely repercussions of releasing 65 hares into an area of c.25ha when the natural territorial range of one hare is 80ha."
The Ranger's report concludes by posing the following question: "Is the hare population able to sustain regular coursing if the period of confinement is being extended to account for a drop in the wild population?"
Hare trafficking suspicions
"If we don't get a satisfactory answer, I think manners should be put on this club - otherwise we will lose all control." Duchas Conservation Ranger, referring to the Bandon & Carey's Cross meeting in November 2000, where the coursing club released hares without a ranger present, after having made arrangements to contact the ranger. "I now find myself in the situation where I have no idea as to the whereabouts of the 66 hares."
At Lifford in January 2001, the Conservation Ranger reported how arrangements for him to supervise the release of hares after the meeting were not honoured. "Club Secretary left Lifford with 13 hares that I supervised. He left the field at high speed. I had trouble keeping up with him...If the club are to get their licence next year, certain conditions should be laid down, surrounding the hare releases to ensure that all are supervised. The last meeting which was held on 19th November 2000 only 9 hares were supervised being released and this time only 27 hares were supervised."
Bandon & Carey's Cross changed the date of their meeting, and failed to keep the Ranger advised. Ranger was told by ICC headquarters that the meeting was to take place on December 15/16, 2001, but on arrival at the venue, was told that it had taken place two days previously. "This club is being most uncooperative with the local Ranger, both last year and again this year. They are making a mockery of the whole thing for whatever reason. The (Irish) Coursing Club should be brought to task very severely about this club's conduct and a licence for this meeting refused if necessary." District Conservation Officer, NPWS, Doneraile Park, Cork.
Loughrea, Co. Galway, October 2000: "I am dissatisfied with the Loughrea Coursing Club releasing 20 hares on the first day of coursing - after our personnel had left the field...Releasing hares after the first day of a two-day event is unusual. Despite any other suspicions, we must inform the ICC that such unsupervised hare releases is not acceptable." (District Conservation Officer, Duchas, Ballinasloe).
Ballinagar, November 2000: The Ranger reported how supervision of the release of hares after the coursing meeting "ran into problems."
"A member of the club was with me and I had three boxes of hares in my van. Another man named X followed me. Mr. X's jeep contained sixteen hares to be released. On our journey, Mr. X passed me out at high speed and failed to stop when I turned off to a side road. After releasing my hares, I drove off in search of Mr. X. My search was unsuccessful and I returned to Ballinagar. I rang Mr. X. He told me that he waited for me to catch up and then proceeded to release the hares. I learned that Mr. X is the chairman of X."
After the National Coursing Finals in Clonmel, 2001, a Duchas official wrote to Head Office as follows: "It appears that hares that were taken from Clonmel were not processed through the proper channels. A report from V. Clancy seems to indicate that the relevant Conservation Rangers were not notified by the appropriate official of their intent to release."
Hares Re-Coursed on Same Day (Suspected Licence Breach)
Roscommon, December 1 & 2, 2001: "XXXXX felt that there were an insufficient number of hares, taking into account the number of courses run. He feels that a number of hares could have been coursed twice due to absence of separation in the hare paddock...." (S.V.I, D.Agr.)
Mallow, November 2001: Conservation Ranger reported "no division in escape."
Waterford, October 2001: Ranger reported 54 hares available for coursing on Day 2, yet 62 courses took place which means that eight hares, at least, were re-coursed.
Edenderry, October 2000: The Conservation Ranger expressed concern about the way coursing was carried out. A member of the coursing club "asked me would I allow hares to be run twice on Sunday and I said no...I spent the day in the boxing shed. During the interval it was realised there would not be enough hares to complete all the events. At this moment I counted 7 hares in the boxes and also two young leverets which were far too small to run. I was now asked by three officials to allow a few more hares to be brought down. I told them that it would be allowed providing only the hares that run but were not pursued by dogs were brought down. I then learned that the few hares in question were mixed with the coursed hares and they were immediately herded around to the boxing shed for a second time."
"I told officials that this could not go any further and explained the reason about the coursed hares mixed with non-coursed. They admitted that they had made an error in not splitting them apart. I was then told that they had enough hares to run the semi-final and final and that the last event, i.e. local derby, would be cancelled. I was now asked by xxxxxxxxx to leave the boxing shed. When I left the shed, seven hares were left in boxes and two leverets. But eleven hares were run and no leverets ran. I believe four hares were run twice. On releasing hares, no tagging was done. Very few hares were put back to areas where they were captured. I recommend withdrawal of coursing licence to Edenderry."
Note: The Irish Council Against Blood Sports was refused records in relation to coursing meetings at Ballinaboolaa and Borris in Ossory for the 2000/2001 season, and Edenderry for the 2001/02 season, under Section 23(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act. We were told that investigations were under consideration.