Round up deer wrecking our countryside and send them back to England: MLA
The DUP's Jim Wells has insisted "urgent action" is needed to tackle the threat posed to the Northern Ireland countryside by a species of deer.
The South Down MLA revealed there had been more than 100 sightings of the Reeves' muntjac in rural areas of the Ards Peninsula and Comber in Co Down and Loughgall in Co Armagh.
The russet coat and doe eyes may give the breed a cute appearance, but the animal has been labelled as the UK's most dangerous and destructive deer.
"Five muntjac escaped from Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire at the end of the 19th century and the population has grown rapidly, with the species now a significant pest in southern England," Mr Wells said.
"There are now hundreds of thousands of the deer roaming the English countryside, and they have caused major damage to forests and crops, and also been known to cause road traffic accidents at night.
"They arrived in Northern Ireland in 2008, and were basically brought here to live on large estates. But they are athletic and some of them escaped, and now it appears we are starting to get a major problem in our own countryside.
"I am extremely concerned that there have been over 100 sightings of Reeves' muntjac in the Ards Peninsula, and also a record of the species near Comber and in Loughgall.
"It is particularly concerning that the species has been seen in Ards and Loughgall - two areas that have quite a distance between them.
"That means the deer has spread and there could be more elsewhere that just haven't been sighted yet."
Mr Wells has called on the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to take immediate action, before the numbers of Reeves' muntjac "get out of control" in Northern Ireland.
"My concern is that if this species is allowed to breed and multiply, then we could be looking at a very big problem in years to come," he added.
"If we don't tackle this problem now we could be facing up a major issue that has no easy solution.
"I have called for the department to take urgent action and rid the countryside of this type of deer. They need to be caught and taken back to England, where the problem is beyond redemption. The problem will be easier to control when there are less numbers.
"We had similar problems with the grey squirrel which caused a lot of damage to our forests, and the mink which damaged our fisheries. We must not allow the muntjac to become another environmental crisis.
"I don't want to sound alarmist, but we potentially have a very big problem on our hands. The deer lives up to 12 years and is a prolific breeder.
"They also have a vast food supply in the countryside, so there is nothing stopping them at present.
"There are no control measures in place and there are no predators to keep muntjac numbers under control."