Feeding by visitors affects health and behavior of Phoenix Park deer


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Research from University College Dublin shows that human interference, especially through feeding, is leading to significant health issues and behavioral changes in the deer population of Phoenix Park. The issue has resurfaced following UCD’s investigation into the impact of humans’ actions on the park’s nearly 600 fallow deer.

PhD researcher specializing in behavioural ecology Jane Faull highlighted the importance of leaving the deer alone and maintaining a distance of at least 50 meters. Ms Faull, who has been researching the said animal in Phoenix Park, has been monitoring their health and behavioural problems resulting from public feeding. Her study showed that the deer in Phoenix Park have tested positive for COVID-19 Omicron strain and suffered physiological changes due to their diet.

She further determined that when humans fed the does, they produced larger fawns, which could lead to complications in birth patterns. Conversely, stags that were fed by humans developed inferior antlers, potentially reducing their chances of successful mating.

Roughly 25% of the deer in Phoenix Park are known to accept food from visitors, resulting in overfeeding compared to their herd mates who abstain from human-provided sustenance. In addition, Ms Faull explained that the majority of the herds are uneasy with close human proximity. She observed that the deer exhibited signs of stress in such situations, including sudden bolting from the herd and tightly packing together when large groups of people were present.

The long-term consequences of feeding are not yet fully understood, including the potential transmission of diseases between humans and deer.

Campaign for wildlife well-being

A report by UCD found that human intervention causes male deer to be given lower-quality food, affecting their mating success rates. Deer dependency on artificial food sources can also result in heavier fawns for females, disrupting their natural reproductive cycles.

Human feeding practices increase the risk of accidents, such as deer-vehicle collisions and close calls between people and deer.

The Office of Public Works has launched a campaign urging visitors to keep their distance from the animals and avoid feeding them. Visitors are encouraged to respect the wildlife’s natural habitat, allowing them to live freely without human intervention.

People who visit the park are advised to respect a buffer zone of at least 50 meters (164 feet) from the deer and refrain from behaviours that could jeopardize the safety of both the animals and themselves, including feeding and taking selfies. Following these guidelines can help ensure the long-term health and well-being of the Phoenix Park deer herd.

Feeding deer in the park may seem like a harmless gesture, but it can have detrimental consequences for both the individual animals and the herd as a whole. These actions can negatively impact their health, social structure, and well-being.

To foster a deeper understanding among visitors about the importance of preserving the natural habitat and behaviours of the Phoenix Park deer, informative signs will be strategically placed around the park. These signs will encourage respect for these creatures by maintaining a safe and generous distance and refraining from offering them food.

For over 350 years, the Phoenix Park deer have been an integral component of Dublin’s rich cultural heritage. To preserve these magnificent creatures for future generations, visitors must adhere to guidelines set by the Office of Public Works.

“Dubliners take immense pride in the Phoenix Park, and it is a wonderful place to visit for locals and tourists. I am asking all visitors to support this campaign and keep these iconic deer safe in their natural home,” the Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Kieran O’Donnell, stated.

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