Letter: Protect hare habitats and ban cruel coursing

9 Jan

Dungiven hare
The habitat of the Irish Hare must be safeguarded and “sports” that militate against its welfare or conservation status banned outright – Read John Fitzgerald’s Letter to the Editor in today’s Belfast Telegraph…

Plan needed to preserve habitat and save our Irish Hare
Belfast Telegraph. 8th January 2020

Artists continued to be creative during the months of lockdown and there’s one work of art I particularly like. Over Christmas, a magnificent sculpture depicting an animal hailed by conservationists as the Flagship of Irish Biodiversity was unveiled in the town of Dungiven in County Derry.

Created by artist Sara Cunningham-Bell the work consists of a native Irish hare mounted on a stone podium. The sculpture is subtly decorated with motifs symbolizing aspects of the town and its hinterland.

I’m delighted to see our oldest native mammal celebrated and recognized in this way. The Irish Hare is a sub-species of the Mountain Hare that is unique to Ireland. It survived the last Ice Age of more than 10,000 years and was probably around for about 60,000 years before that.

Sadly, having endured the test of time, its survival is now threatened on the whole island of Ireland by loss of habitat resulting from urbanization and the unintended but devastating impact of modern agriculture. It also faces relentless exploitation by humans who enjoy from watching it run from dogs.

It can be legally hunted with packs of hounds and, in the Republic, captured by coursing clubs to serve as live bait for pairs of greyhounds. Hare coursing is thankfully banned in Northern Ireland

As if all this persecution wasn’t enough, the hare now faces what amounts to an existential threat from the deadly RHD2 virus, which is fatal to hares and rabbits and can be spread by coursing activities.

Hare numbers have been in decline for the past half century in the Republic and Northern Ireland. A comprehensive plan is required to preserve this fleet-footed creature feted in Celtic song and mythology. Its habitat must be safeguarded and “sports” that militate against its welfare or conservation status banned outright.

John Fitzgerald.
Callan, Co Kilkenny

Watch a video of Sara working on the Irish Hare sculpture

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