PSNI and USPCA rescue County Down hunt stags
A man has been arrested after the USPCA and PSNI seized a vehicle and trailer containing two stags which, it is thought, were about to be hunted.
The practice known as 'carting' is illegal and the hunting community has long maintained that it doesn't exist.
The trailer was registered to the County Down Hunt, but the hunt master said he knew nothing about the events.
Although the animals' antlers had been removed, a vet confirmed they were stags.
The vet also said they were tagged, indicating they had been reared on a farm.
However, the number which might identify exactly who had reared them had been scraped off the tag.
While it is illegal to breed stags for hunting, it is not illegal to hunt stags in Northern Ireland.
However, the practice is banned in the rest of the UK.
Stag hunting was recently outlawed in the Republic of Ireland.
Stephen Philpott from the USPCA said the County Down operation had confirmed the charity's long-held suspicions.
"The people that do it pretend that they don't. They would have you believe that the animals they hunt they have come across while out riding and that they are actually wild animals," he said.
"We have believed for the last ten years that the animals aren't wild, but were being bred somewhere and then being brought solely and purposefully to be hunted by dogs and men on horseback and unfortunately it looks as though we were right."
For over a year the USPCA had been monitoring a group of people they believed were organising stag hunts in County Down.
That surveillance led them to conclude that a hunt would start on Tuesday outside Loughbrickland.
Several 4x4 vehicles, horseboxes and horse lorries were observed arriving at the location where the hunt was believed to be starting from and then leaving.
A woman approached the USPCA inspector and asked him if he was there for the hunt.
She then told him that her husband was a master for the hunt and that she had received a phone call to say that the hunt was cancelled and that people should leave the area.
Me Philpott said he believed that there had been a conspiracy to commit an offence under the welfare of animals act.
"How can anyone else call it anything else other than cruelty," he said.
"First of all there's the stress they suffered in the back of that box, it was pitiful.
"And then to put them through another 20 miles of stress being chased by dogs horses and people. It needs to be put an end to."
The stags were later released into the wild.