The mutilation and beheading of a swan at Ladestown at the weekend is being treated as a serious crime.
The most likely motivation for the crime was the taking of meat for consumption, a National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) conservation ranger has told the Westmeath Examiner.
Therese Kelly said: “The two breasts were gone. It did not look to be predated by an animal as the removal of the head and breast meat looked surgical.
“An animal would have been pulling at the carcass and it appeared well intact except for the head and breasts.
“Also it is most unlikely that an animal would have removed its head. The beheading is a mystery.”
Ms Kelly said the bird was likely to have been a mute swan.
“They are present in large numbers on Lough Ennell – at least a couple of hundred live on the lake,” she said.
“Some spend time at Ladestown on a daily basis and the area is a popular place for feeding them.
“Some have developed a familiarity with people and will approach them looking for food if they come close to the shoreline.”
The incident was initially reported to an Inland Fisheries officer on Sunday evening, and was subsequently reported to the NPWS.
Ms Kelly said that on that basis the swan was probably killed on Saturday evening or early on Sunday.
The NPW is treating the incident as a serious wildlife crime.
Swans are protected all year round under the Irish Wildife Acts and the European Birds and Natural Habitats regulations.
Rangers are appealing to the public for information – not just on this crime, but on any crime perpetrated on wildlife.
Cllr Una D’Arcy, a member of the Heritage Forum in Westmeath, said: “The swans at Ladestown are so tame. The poor bird probably thought he was going to be fed when people approached him or they disturbed the bird when it was nesting.
“Swans are loved in Westmeath with the stories of the children of Lir.
“The reason behind the attack is unclear, but the message is clear – this is a wildlife crime.
“This cannot happen again and the wildlife rangers pursue this cruel activity and take action.”
Anyone who has information is asked to contact the NPWS at 085 800 9463; or 076 100 2696 ext. 8696.
The swan carcass remains at Ladestown pending inspection and testing by the Dept of Agriculture.
Depending on the outcome of the tests, the department will remove it, or the NPWS will request the council to remove it.
In the meantime, visitors to the area are reminded to stay clear of the carcass and not touch it.
(The National Parks and Wildlife Service is part of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and locally, is based at Government Offices at Bellview, Mullingar.