Phoenix Park deer

A history

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stags on gaelic pitches
To some people the Phoenix Park deer are Bambi-like creatures simply there to form a background to family snapshots on a summer’s afternoon, or ideal for a quick visit on Christmas Day to thank Rudolph for his generosity and commitment to the work ethic on Christmas Eve.

But, they are a living herd of wild animals with their own rights to the park established over many hundreds of years and through many challenges both to their territory and their existence.

Fallow deer have been present in Phoenix Park since the seventeenth century when they were hunted for sport by the gentry of the day. The present-day herd is descended from those deer who were chased for enjoyment and hunted for food.

They are wild animals, and their relationship with man has sometimes been a stormy one, like when calls were made to remove the animals to a special enclosure so twentieth-century motorists could drive through the park on the way to somewhere else without having deer wandering the roads and precipitating accidents.

In fact, their wanderings during the Second World War and pressure on space in general in Phoenix Park saw most of
1,200 herd members being officially shot dead. Just thirty-eight animals constituted the herd, following the 1942 cull.

Some 200 fawns can be born each year in Phoenix Park.

As part of a continuing study, hair and nail clippings are taken from the newborn animal for DNA samples, for official records.

Fawns are colour-tagged shortly after birth and allocated an individual identification number.

The herd is normally situated on the 200-acre flat meadow area known as the Fifteen Acres, and in the woodland of Oldtown Wood on its northern perimeter.

The oldest recorded male died of old age in summer 2004 at 14 years of age. His skeleton was placed on exhibition in the mammal study unit in UCD.

By 2005, the herd had grown to some 800 animals once more and a major reduction was ordered by the Office of Public Works. Some 350 animals were to be killed to reduce the herd to a manageable size of 450 animals once more. A deer population of this size was regarded as the maximum carrying capacity of the park. The cull was to be carried out over a number of years taking into account the number of healthy or infirm specimens that are extant from each year of birth.

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Brendan Nolan has reported on Phoenix Park as a freelance journalist for several decades and was a professional observer at many of the events of the late 20th century related herein.

He was born in Chapelizod in a house beside the churchyard of Le Fanu and counted Phoenix Park as his personal rambling ground through his growing years and beyond.


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