Increasing numbers of people in the Phoenix Park are having a negative impact on wild Fallow Deer

Evidence of malnourishment and stress in Deer population

02 December 2020

Recent research is highlighting that the impact of COVID-19 is far reaching and having many unforeseen consequences. One such consequence is that the increasingly large numbers of visitors and recreation users in the Phoenix Park is causing undue stress on the wild deer.

The impact is made significantly worse by people trying to get close to the wild deer in order to get selfies or to feed them.

Park Superintendent Paul McDonnell, who has witnessed the range of human efforts to engage the wild deer said at the launch, “It is very understandable that people of all ages want to get close to the wild deer. They are beautiful wild animals and as we experience the loss of wildlife around us we are naturally drawn to engage with it when we see it. Deer have been the subject of many books and films and have a special place in our hearts. However, these depictions often make them appear domesticated which they are not. It has led many of us to believe that we are being helpful when we give them carrots or bread but we are causing significant long term harm to the animals and potentially ourselves. The wild deer also pose a significant threat of injury, especially to young people given their size and potentially erratic behaviour.

Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Mr. Patrick O’Donovan TD, also commented “The impact of human interaction with wildlife around the world is posing significant dangers for animal populations and humans. Ireland is not alone in this shift in human desire to engage directly with nature so it is imperative that we work to help the public understand that if we want to protect and care for the wild fallow deer herd that have lived in the park for over the past three hundred and fifty years that we adjust our behaviour”.

Just some of the potential impacts that increasing human interaction are having on the deer include:

  • Malnourishment – the park provides the perfect feeding habitat for the deer and other food such as carrots or bread are harmful
  • Offering food can cause competition amongst the deer resulting in injuries and high stress levels
  • Close contact can cause the exchange of disease between wild animals and humans
  • The deer are wild and therefore unpredictable and potentially dangerous
  • They can move at great speed and strength if taken by surprise, such as by sudden human movements

As the Christmas season comes close – a time when deer have a significant role to play – we are asking visitors to keep their distance, 50m or more, and not to engage in behaviour that poses risks to the deer or the visitor, especially children. This includes feeding the deer and posing for selfies.

As an alternative to feeding the deer, the staff of the Phoenix Park have set up a number of post boxes for children to drop off their letters to Rudolf. These will be located at the Papal Cross Car Park, the Phoenix Park Visitors Centre Car Park and the Camogie Grounds Car Park off Chesterfield Avenue in the run up to Christmas and we are asking all families with young children to use these as way to show their concern for the well-being of the wild deer.


For further information please contact OPW Communications at pressoffice@opw.ie or 087 1470617. Images from the launch are available from Naoise Culhane Photography naoise@naoiseculhane.com

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