Christmas celebrations at a Santa wonderland display in Count Wicklow, Ireland, turned gloomy after three Sika deer that were part of the children’s winter wonderland celebration apparently vanished.
According to authorities, Santa’s reindeers were shot dead by poachers, just days before Christmas.
The awful tragedy was discovered when a staff member at the Djouce golf club, which was hosting the “Santa’s Journey” event, went to the deer pen to feed the animals. The deer were nowhere to be seen and to the man’s horror, he found “heaps of blood” leading from the golf course all the way to the main road.
“It seems that someone had come in overnight and taken them all,” display organizer Keith Whelan said. “It’s a ... horrific thing to do a family area. It’s very hard to contemplate how someone could be in a mindset to do carry this out.”
He called killing the tame deer like “shooting fish in a barrel.”
Paul Cullen, who raised the animals and rented them to the event, was devastated. He explained the poachers must know these deer were not wild animals.
“There was a 6ft fence around them and green netting. There is no way even with a lamp from the road you would have thought they were wild deer roaming the course,” he said.
“There is also loads of lights and a big sign saying ‘Santa’s Journey’. It’s just shoddy behavior.”
“We got three sika deer for the event and they were an integral part for the children… they were shot and dragged across the fairway,” said a man, who wished to stay anonymous.
The Gardai (Irish police) told The Independent they were currently treating the incident as a theft, but it is believed the deer were shot and killed before more than one poacher entered the grounds to remove the bodies. The investigation is ongoing; a bullet was recovered from a tree, whereas an eyewitness spotted a vehicle in the location where the deer might have been killed.
“We are taking this incident very seriously. It involves poaching, trespassing and the discharge of weapons in a public place,” a police spokesman told The Wicklow People newspaper.
No arrests have been made yet.
“One day you would hope that the culprits will be found. The bullet could be matched to the gun,” said Cullen.
Children who were all very excited to meet the Santa’s reindeers were told the animals were resting for Santa’s Christmas gifts delivery.
“Santa's Journey Exhibit” involved a train ride that passed by the Reindeer's Way, where the deer were kept, and a visit to Santa's grotto.
Meanwhile, a good-Samaritan neighbor donated another deer to the exhibit. The deer replacing the three deceased animals is sent back to its owner every night for safety purposes.
Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: Reuters, Kacper Pempel