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Irish deer report highlights negative impact of humans

The new ‘Don’t feed the deer’ initiative aims to protect some 600 fallow in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

Ireland’s Office of Public Works (OPW) has launched a new campaign aiming to alter public behaviour to safeguard deer in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. The ‘Protect our park — Don’t feed the deer’ initiative follows a recent University College Dublin report that highlighted the negative impact of humans on the welfare of the park’s deer population. 

The UCD report confirms that feeding disrupts the natural foraging instincts of deer, leading to dependency on human-provided food sources and affecting their health and social dynamics. The report follows the news that a popular stag in Beinn Eighe had to be euthanised after eating snacks supplied by visitors (News, 3 July). 

The report found that does accepting food from visitors give birth to heavier fawns; deer accepting artificial food experience digestive system changes, affecting their ability to process natural food; and stags receiving lower-quality food have smaller antlers and reduced mating success. Human interactions also disturb mating encounters and increase stress levels in the animals. Some deer also tested positive for Covid. 

David McAuley, CEO of the British Deer Society, said the campaign highlights a critical issue faced by deer populations. “Feeding deer can significantly alter their natural behaviour and compromise their health. This campaign emphasises the importances of responsible conduct in wildlife habitats. We urge everyone to respect wildlife by not feeding deer and supporting initiatives that promote natural, healthy environments for these magnificent creatures.”