Three Sika deer that were part of a Santa wonderland display in Ireland vanished in a trail of blood earlier this month, apparently shot and killed by poachers, according to authorities.
“There was a six-foot fence around them and green netting. There is no way ... you would have thought they were wild deer,” said Pat Cullen, the angry owner of the animals who had raised them from fawns. “There is also loads of lights and a big sign saying ‘Santa’s Journey.’ It’s just shoddy behavior,” he told The London Times.
A staff worker at the golf course where the Santa’s Journey exhibit in County Wicklow was set up found the three animals gone when he came to the pen to feed them. “Heaps of blood” were spotted, and bloody trails led from the pen to a nearby roadway.
“It seems that someone had come in overnight and taken them all,” display organizer Keith Whelan told Extra.ie. “It’s a ... horrific thing to do a family area. It’s very hard to contemplate how someone could be in a mindset to do carry this out.”
He called killing the tame deer like “shooting fish in a barrel.”
Police are continuing to investigate. A bullet was recovered from a tree, and an eyewitness spotted a vehicle in the area when the deer may have been killed.
“We are taking this incident very seriously. It involves poaching, trespassing and the discharge of weapons in a public place,” a police spokesman told The Wicklow People newspaper.
“One day you would hope that the culprits will be found. The bullet could be matched to the gun,” said Cullen.
Children visiting the exhibit had been told the three deer were Santa’s reindeer. They were later informed that the animals were away, resting for Santa’s delivery Christmas gifts.
Activities at the popular display include a train ride, a visit to Santa’s grotto and a stop at the North Pole post office.
A neighbor donated another deer to the exhibit. The lone deer has been taken home each night to keep it safe.