By Clodagh Kilcoyne
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Visitors to Dublin's Phoenix Park hoping to catch sight of its fallow deer herd may come across the unusual sight of Laura Griffin and her team walking uniformly along the long grass, nets in hand.
The University College Dublin wildlife, ecology and behaviour PHD student is looking for the 100 or so fawn born in the park each June and July to tag them while they spend the first two weeks of their lives hidden away from the main herd.
The eight strong tagging team comb the grass in an almost military formation and signal with a whistle when a fawn is spotted, before catching it with a butterfly net.
"Once we've caught it, it's very important to reduce the stress that is on the fawn so we will cover its eyes so that it feels more secure and safe," said Griffin.
"We get some important science-related data, such as their weights, the different dimensions - just everything to keep track of the welfare of the herd."
Fallow deer were imported from Britain into the park in the 17th century, and their descendants still roam one of the largest parks in any city in Europe, according to Ireland's Office of Public Works.
The ear tags allow the researchers to identify each deer, providing an insight into their biology, behaviour and change colour every year for the 600-strong herd.
A hair sample, shaved from each fawn's belly, contains cortisol that can measure the stress levels of both the newborn and its mother.
"It's quite physical, we come out rain and sunshine and there are a lot of nettles to be coping with, but it's an enormous honour to get to be there just for those few minutes of a fawn's life when you get to see them when they're so young," said Griffin.
(Writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)