- Quercus first to GPS tag lagomorphs Animal rescue centres release large numbers of captive-bred, rehabilitated or translocated a... [more]
- Quercus wins "National Frog Survey of Ireland" contract Quercus won the National Frog Survey of Ireland 2010/11 contract under competitive tender... [more]
Dr. Ciarán Magee, East Donegal Coursing Club
DJ Histon, Chief Executive, Irish Coursing Club
Conflicts between field sports, animal welfare and species conservation are frequently contentious. In Ireland, hare coursing is a widespread but controversial activity where the Irish Coursing Club (ICC) competitively tests the speed and agility of two greyhounds by using a live hare as a lure.
In an attempt to reduce hare mortality and mitigate the activity’s impact on hare welfare, the Irish Coursing Club introduced measures including the compulsory muzzling of dogs in 1993. However, the efficacy of these measures remains the subject of heated debate.
Official records, corroborated by independent video evidence, were used to assess the fate of individual Irish hares (Lepus timidus hibernicus) during coursing events from 1988–2004. Muzzling dogs significantly reduced levels of hare mortality. In courses using unmuzzled dogs from 1988/89–1992/93 mean hare mortality was 15.8%, compared to 4.1% in courses using muzzled dogs from 1993/94–2003/04.
Further reductions in mortality could not be accounted for by muzzling dogs, supporting the efficacy of other factors such as improved hare husbandry.
The duration of the head start given to the hare prior to the release of the dogs significantly affected the outcome of the course. Hares that were killed had greater head starts than those that were chased but survived, suggesting the former may have been slower. The selection of hares by assessment of their running ability may provide means to reduce hare mortality during courses further.
Our findings support the efficacy of measures taken to mitigate the impact of coursing on individual hares. However, it is necessary to evaluate the impact of removing hares from the source population and of returning coursed hares to the wild before the wider impact of coursing on wild hare populations can be determined.
You can download the final peer-reviewed paper here:
Each coursing club is associated with a number of discrete localities, known as preserves, which are managed favourably for hares including predator control, prohibition of other forms of hunting such as shooting and poaching and the maintenance and enhancement of suitable hare habitat.
We indirectly tested the efficacy of such management by comparing hare abundance within preserves to that in the wider countryside. In real terms, mean hare density was 18 times higher, and after controlling for variance in habitat remained 3 times higher, within ICC preserves than the wider countryside.
Whilst we cannot rule out the role of habitat, our results suggest that hare numbers are maintained at high levels in ICC preserves either because clubs select areas of high hare density and subsequently have a negligible effect on numbers or that active population management positively increases hare abundance.
The Irish hare is one of the highest priority species for conservation action in Ireland and without concessions for its role in conservation, any change in the legal status of hare coursing under animal welfare grounds, may necessitate an increase in Government subsidies for conservation on private land together with a strengthened capacity for legislation enforcement.
You can request a reprint of this paper here:
Reid, N., Magee, C. & Montgomery, W.I. (2010) Integrating field sports, hare population management and conservation. Acta Theriologica, 55(1), 61-71.
BBC Newsline 6:30 [Click here]