Press Release: Be Pet Wise: a call to pet owners

06 May 2011

For Immediate Release

First sighting of a Raccoon in the wild in Ireland and a third sighting of a yellow bellied slider causes experts to raise the alarm and call on pet owners to be more responsible with their pets.

Working with Invasive Species Ireland, the National Biodiversity Data Centre has now issued Invasive Species Alerts for both raccoon and yellow bellied slider. Colette O’Flynn from the Data Centre said ‘this is the first sighting of a racoon in the wild from anywhere in Ireland and it adds to the increasing trend in the numbers of pet species being reported from the wild’.

The report of the racoon was made to the National Biodiversity Data Centre on 26th of April. The sighting has now been verified by experts. Raccoons are native to North America. In Europe, where they are considered to be one of the 100 Worst Invasive Species, they were first recorded in the wild in Germany in 1927 and have spread to many parts of continental Europe. Apart from Germany, the species is not considered common in Europe.

There is significant concern over the potential to introduce new parasites and diseases that may affect human health and native species. Raccoons are known to carry the raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) which can be lethal to humans. In their native range in North America raccoons are one of the most important vectors of rabies although in Germany they are Similar to many invasive species, the racoon can impact on native biodiversity by predating on native species, impacting on ground nesting birds and competing for resources.

The yellow bellied slider was reported to Dan Minchin, an invasive species expert, during April 2011. This is now the third sighting of the slider from the wild in Ireland. The impacts associated with the yellow-bellied slider are more difficult to predict. It is not ideally suited to our climate in Ireland and is not believed to be able to successfully reproduce. However, it can have an impact on the breeding success of some species of birds, on native invertebrates and amphibians.

John Kelly at Invasive Species Ireland is asking pet owners to ‘Be Pet Wise’ and look after their pet species in a manner that does not allow them to escape into the wild in Ireland. Invasive Species Ireland has developed guidelines for pet owners to help them make informed decisions when choosing a pet or when faced with a difficult decision of what to do when you are no longer able to look after a pet. While it may seem like a kind act to release an unwanted pet into the wild, often this is not the case. Pets are generally dependant on their owner for care and not always capable of fending for themselves. It can, in many cases, be cruel to the animal and it is also against the law to release most pet species in Ireland.

Ms. O’ Flynn from the Data Centre said ’we need to know if these species and other potentially invasive species are more widespread in Ireland. We’re asking members of the public to look out for these unusual species in the wild and report sightings to the Data Centre or Invasive Species Ireland’.

Ends

Notes for Editors

  • Photos of the specimens found in Ireland are available – e-mail coflynn@biodiversityireland.ie to request them.
  • The Invasive Species Alerts have been issued by the National Biodiversity Data Centre and Invasive Species Ireland. They are available to download from the respective organisations website.
  • The scientific name of the Raccoon is Procyon lotor.
  • The scientific name of the yellow bellied slider is Trachemys scripta scripta.
  • The raccoon seen in County Cork has not been recovered from the wild. Members of the public living in this area are asked to report any further sightings of the animal.
  • The slider has been recovered from the wild and is now been cared for. Members of the public are asked to report any further sightings of this species in the wild.
  • The Raccoon was classified as one of Europe’s 100 of the Worst Invasive Species by the EU funded project ‘Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe’.
  • Raccoons are known to carry the raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) which can be lethal to humans. In Germany, 70-80% of examined Raccoon populations had this roundworm. Raccoons can also carry other diseases that can affect human health and animal health.
  • ‘Be Pet Wise’ is the name given to the guidance produced for pet owners and traders by Invasive Species Ireland. The guidance is intended to promote responsible behaviour and does not aim to discourage the keeping or trade of pets in Ireland or Northern Ireland.
  • Invasive species are estimated to cost Europe at least E12 billion per year
  • John Kelly Invasive Species Ireland Manger and Colette O’ Flynn National Invasive Species Database Manager are available for interviews

Contacts

Name: John Kelly                   Tel: + 44 (0) 2890 278330                     E-mail: john@invasivespeciesireland.com

Website: www.invasivespeciesireland.com

Name: Colette O’ Flynn          Tel: +353 (0)51 306248                          E-mail: coflynn@biodiversityireland.ie

Website: http://invasives.biodiversityireland.ie

The National Invasive Species Database provides up-to-date centralised information on the distribution of invasive species in Ireland. It answers the questions: What invasive species do we have in Ireland? Where exactly are they? The database has been developed as a resource to assist recording, monitoring and surveillance programmes, and provides the infrastructure for development of an early warning system for invasive species.

The associated website: http://invasives.biodiversityireland.ie is a portal to the searchable database that is linked to interactive GIS distribution maps with full record information on invasive species sightings.  The website also contains Species Alerts that are issued when confirmed sightings of potentially invasive species arrive in Ireland, database up-dates, an Invasive Species Survey where people are urged to report sightings of eight of Ireland’s most unwanted invasive plants and record submission facility.

The National Invasive Species Database is joint funded by The Heritage Council and The Environmental Protection Agency and was established by the National Biodiversity Data Centre in 2008.

The Invasive Species Ireland project is a joint venture between the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The Invasive Species Ireland project aims to substantially reduce the impact of invasive species on Irish biodiversity, to contribute to halting the biodiversity loss by 2010 and beyond; and to minimise economic and social costs caused by invasive species.

Through partnership working, the vision for Invasive Species Ireland is that the island of Ireland will have a high performing system for managing invasive species risks to the economy, environment and human health. The project is working with stakeholders, partners, and the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland to develop an understanding of, and confidence in the systems required to achieve effective prevention and management of invasive species.

For more information on the Invasive Species Ireland project see www.invasivespeciesireland.com