The barbaric practice of hare coursing could be to blame for a sickening increase in sheep worrying incidents across Perth and Kinross.
Prize livestock has been savaged with increasing regularity in recent months, with seven maulings now reported since November. Two have now been linked to hare coursing with intelligence suggesting a worrying resurgence.
In each incident Whippet-type dogs have been spotted loose in fields and Police Scotland believes they may have been deliberately set free.
Though there has been a lull in hare coursing activity in recent months, Tayside has previously had the unwanted reputation as a hotspot for the crime.
During 2013-14, almost half of all Scotland’s recorded incidents of hunting with dogs were in Tayside.
Groups have been reported travelling from all over the country to the area’s farmland to send greyhounds, whippets and lurchers hunting for a kill.
Bets are often taken and any hares caught are torn apart before those responsible disappear as swiftly as they arrived. The whole practice often lasts no more than 10 minutes.
Farms near Alyth, Auchterarder, Blairgowrie, Crieff, Dunkeld, Balado, Muthill and Kinross, have all been affected by sheep worrying in recent months.
In January, one of Scotland’s top breeders, farmer Tom Paterson from near Muthill, was left reeling after discovering his prize winning flock of pedigree animals had been targeted.
A number of animals had their hind legs so badly mauled they will never walk properly again.
With many of the animals heavily pregnant, the full impact of the dog attack will not be known until lambing time, though Mr Paterson estimated the loss at thousands of pounds.
Inspector Kevin Chase heads community policing operations in Tayside. He said: “I would not be surprised if there had been even more incidents we don’t yet know about.
“On two recent occasions in the Kinross area, however, the animal involved has been a whippet and it may well be that hare coursing was taking place.
“It might be that another form of wildlife crime has led to sheep worrying.
“There has been information provided to our officers suggesting that hare coursing is once again on the increase.
“This is local intelligence, though we have not yet received any crime reports. That could simply be because hare coursing is notoriously difficult to detect.
Farming chiefs have urged members to consider shooting an “out of control” dog as “a last resort” but have warned it is “a very real possibility”.
Inspector Chase added: “If Lurcher-type dogs are seen within a field near livestock then I would urge members of the public to call the police.