An endangered bird of prey reintroduced to Northern Ireland after a 200-year absence has been found shot dead, it emerged yesterday.
The body of the red kite was discovered in a field near Castlewellan in Co Down, the police confirmed.
The bird was one of 27 kites released by the RSPB in the region in July at the start of a three-year reintroduction programme.
Wing tags and an identifying leg ring had been removed from the four-month old bird before it was recovered by the RSPB.
Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s director of conservation, said: “We are shocked and angered by the senseless killing of one of the recently released red kites.
“These magnificent birds were neither a threat to humans nor livestock, so we can only assume that whoever did this was either ignorant or gets a perverse sense of enjoyment from killing birds of prey.
“We believe that there will be much anger not only in Northern Ireland but right across the UK.
“Red kites are a globally threatened species and their reintroduction became a celebration of the return of an iconic species to Northern Ireland.”
Red kites were hunted to extinction in Ireland over 200 years ago.
Dr Avery added: “RSPB Northern Ireland had been working tremendously hard behind the scenes for a number of years to get the Red Kite Reintroduction Project off the ground, and we are determined to see it succeed.
“The message needs to be sent out that these birds should be a treasured addition to our countryside and not a target for illegal shooting.”
Primary school pupils were to have been offered the chance to track the life of the bird through the RSPB’s Adopt A Kite initiative.
PSNI Constable Alex Beck said: “Wildlife crime is taken seriously by the PSNI, and its significance cannot be underestimated.
“Red Kites, like all wild birds, are protected by law under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. As such, any person involved in this type of crime could find themselves subject to a report to the Public Prosecution Service.”