Animal rights groups furious as stag shot dead by Northern Ireland police
Animal rights activists have condemned the PSNI's killing of a stag on the loose in Newry.
Police said the animal posed a risk to the public and that shooting it was the safest option.
But campaigners said that other solutions should have been sought to pacify the animal.
Isabel Hutchinson, director of Animal Aid, the UK's largest animal rights group, insisted: "It is tragic this animal was killed because of his reaction to a situation that must have been terrifying to him.
"Instead of resorting to shooting the stag, those responsible should have found a way to tranquillise him and move him to a more appropriate location.
"We believe that there is an urgent need for police officers to be provided with better training in dealing with stressed, frightened animals in difficult situations.
"Often, the animal is simply shot, when humane, non-lethal solutions should be found instead."
The stag was spotted in the St Patrick's Avenue area of Newry yesterday morning and the public were warned not to approach it.
A PSNI spokesman said: "Several attempts were made to safely and humanely manage the animal.
"Regrettably, officers were required to shoot the stag as it had become very agitated and posed a risk to the public.
"Officers liaised with a vet and qualified deer stalkers were at the scene.
"As is normal procedure, the office of the Police Ombudsman has been informed of the incident."
Elisa Allen, the director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said: "One wonders whether human activity - perhaps construction - caused the stag to enter the city, something he probably wouldn't have done if he weren't frightened or disturbed.
"It's no surprise that this stag - gentle by nature - became terrified when he found himself in this unnatural environment.
"But it is a surprise that no one was able to help calm him down or guide him out of the city safely. We owe it to these majestic animals to find a humane solution to our encroachment on natural habitats - instead of gunning them down whenever they turn up somewhere we don't want them to be.
"It should go without saying that law enforcement officers are entrusted with protecting the innocent, meaning deadly force should be used only as a last resort."
A police source told the Belfast Telegraph that such incidents were dealt with by at least three highly trained specialist firearms officers, who use either a high-powered 7.62mm sniper rifle or a lighter calibre 5.56mm rifle. "The idea is to make a clinical kill, aiming for the heart, so there is no suffering," the source said. "You want to avoid a situation where you just wound the animal as then it will be in pain.
"Police would not be deployed to use a tranquilliser. That would be something for a vet to use and it's not suitable in a situation like this with a stag out of control.
"A tranquilliser gun will only work if the dart enters a major muscle mass. It's impossible when the stag is charging about. Unfortunately, a sniper rifle is the best option."
A representative of the Ulster Society Prevention Cruelty to Animals also attended the scene.
A spokesman said the stag was in a "heavily populated area" where it posed a hazard to people and traffic.
He added: "At the end of the day, police had to make a decision in the interests of public safety and unfortunately the animal had to be humanely destroyed.
"Had it been possible, the police certainly would have tried to get the animal sedated and released in an open area, but that just wasn't to be."