The Irish press and Twitter are reverberating with reports of one of the first two white-tailed eagles to fledge in Ireland having been found near Tipperary with 40/50 shotgun pellets in it. From the number and the spread of the pellets the bird had been shot at close range; not surprising as they are much less aware of the dangers from humans than golden eagles. Having shot and injured the bird at close range and broken a wing it is completely unforgivable for the criminal to have left it to suffer and to die a miserable death from starvation, septicaemia or any other ultimately fatal consequence.
We are now well into the 21st century and still the illegal killing of protected species continues, both in Ireland and the UK. It is an absolute scandal, and an act that can never be punished in court to the satisfaction of the general public, even if in this case the culprit is caught. One gunshot from a criminal (who no doubt does not consider he deserves such a description) and 50% of the magnificent achievement of returning white-tailed eagles in Ireland to the stage that they have again bred naturally, has been lost. As when this happens in Scotland I am both saddened and furious.
Though raptor persecution cases are extremely difficult for the police to solve, I would suggest that this case has the potential to be solved more easily than some in the UK, where a golden or white-tailed eagle may be found shot or poisoned on the borders of two extensively-managed grouse moors, each with six or seven gamekeepers. For a start it has been shot, and its severe injuries suggest that even in the timescale between shooting and death it is unlikely to have travelled far. This must also limit the number of potential suspects to those with rights to shoot on this land. This might be able to be narrowed further by looking for someone with a motive to kill the bird.
To the advantage of the investigators, the locals will rightly be up in arms, and it is highly likely that the criminal (culprit is not a strong enough noun) has told someone. The news may now be starting to spread and hopefully will get back to the Gardai. Even if this is not the case, it is possible that the criminal may earlier have voiced his dislike for white-tailed eagles. This type of intelligence must also be reported to the Gardai. Having myself investigated similar incidents with shot or poisoned birds of prey it is then down to good interview skills to get a case to court.
I note in one of the Irish newspaper reports that ‘Investigations are ongoing by both An Garda Siochána and the NPWS and into the shooting’. I do hope they are working together and not independently. Each organisation has particular skills which, when combined, are exactly what is required to bring the case to a successful conclusion. Police officers – and their Gardai counterparts – have huge experience in crime investigations and interviewing suspects, while NPWS have equally important skills in knowledge of wildlife and fieldcraft. The investigation will be time-consuming and difficult, but at least it is one that can’t be written off at the start as almost impossible to solve.
I wish them the very best of luck.