A PREGNANT roe deer has been found dead after being caught in a snare in West Lothian.

Animal welfare officers say the animal died a horrific, slow death after getting its neck caught up in the wire noose while foraging for food.

They are now hunting the poachers who set the snare, and others, in woodland next to Niddry Castle Golf Club in Winchburgh.

The pregnant deer’s mate was seen nurturing the animal while it died and did not leave until inspectors from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals arrived.

A local man walking his dog made the gruesome discovery when he saw the animal still struggling to break free and called the SSPCA yesterday morning.

By the time inspectors arrived, the deer had died and they discovered the wire attached to a tree at one end and biting into the animal’s neck at the other.

SSPCA inspector Penny Johnson said the snares were probably set by poachers hoping to sell the animals to specialist butchers for venison.

She said: “This is just horrible. Someone has set the snares at the deer’s head height along the path they use.

“They’ve set the noose wide enough for a deer’s head so we know it’s not just someone going for rabbits and foxes who have accidentally caught a deer.

“Her partner was standing nearby waiting. In the end, the deer probably died as a result of stress.

“These snares shouldn’t be set for deer. It’s an awful way for the animal to die.

“We are almost certain this is for illegal poaching. We are still trying to find out who owns the land.

“We are considering carrying out a post-mortem on her to see if she died from strangulation or shock.”

The SSPCA is calling on anyone who may have seen poachers in the area to contact them.

Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “Someone has known exactly what they are doing. They set the snare next to a tree which the deer had used as a scratching post.

“It’s surprising they hadn’t come to check the snare in the early hours.

“There’s a lot of game shops which take this sort of meat from poachers. They would expect to have got around £20-30 for this one.

“Anyone caught can face six months in prison and a £5000 fine.”

Under the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1912, the SSPCA can prosecute for a case where unnecessary suffering has been caused to an animal, with a maximum fine of £5000 and a six-month jail sentence.

Poaching is a criminal offence and a Lothian and Borders Police wildlife liaison officer has been informed of the incident. His investigation is ongoing.

SSPCA officers said snares are a particularly cruel way to catch deer because once they are trapped, they are left to thrash about.

In one recent case in Dumfries, the deer had leapt about so much, it had jumped into a tree and the snare had pulled its leg off.

Using snares to trap rabbits and foxes is only legal if the correct type of snare is used and the permission of the landowner has been sought.

Gamekeepers often use them but follow strict guidelines and regulations on how they should be set.

The SSPCA opposes the use of snares altogether and is campaigning for tighter restrictions to be introduced for their use.

The Nature Conservation Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament also proposes tighter regulation on snares, including checking them every 24 hours.

Jim McGovern, Lothian and Borders Police wildlife crime co-ordinator, said: “This is appalling.

“We do not know how long this deer has been suffering for. This will shock people.

“It is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Deer Scotland Act.

“It would be very difficult for anyone to say this was set for a fox because of the height the loop was set at. Anyone with information should contact us immediately.”