A petition calling on The Royal Parks to “stop culling healthy animals” has reached 77,784 signatures.

Nearly 22,000 of those who signed the petition are from the United Kingdom.

The petition states that “every year hundreds of healthy animals are culled” in The Royal Parks, which are places “locals and tourists go to relax and reconnect with nature”.

It asks Royal Parks to:

• Immediately halt the culling of healthy animals

• Put into practice all the non-lethal methods that exist for animal population control and are mentioned in their own policy statement

• Gather scientific evidence on the biological and cultural carrying capacity of the Royal Parks

• Increase the cultural carrying capacity by education and by promoting greater tolerance

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Animal Aid showed that between January 2013 and January 2017, a total of 8,400 wild mammals and 3,240 birds were culled in Bushy Park, Greenwich Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent's Park, Richmond Park and St. James's Park.

These figures include 3,679 squirrels, 330 foxes, 2,657 rabbits, and 1,734 red and fallow deer, 1,221 crows, 268 geese, 382 magpies, 46 jays, 1,025 pigeons, and 298 parakeets.

Natalia Doran, of Roehampton, who launched the petition, said: “I started it because I found the numbers from Action Aid so shocking and because it’s close to home; I live beside Richmond Park.

“We had always thought they were killing animals for their own good because they were ill.

“Then we find out they’re doing it pre-emptively to perfectly healthy animals. It’s shocking.

“The numbers are huge and people need to know that.

“We were leafleting and most people we talked didn’t know this, they presumed they were killing sick animals.”

However, the charity argues that the culling is down to population control, without which “food would become scarce and more animals would ultimately suffer”.

About 630 deer roam freely through the parks and there are more than 200 births each year.

Royal Parks says that without the two deer culls a year there would be other issues such as “low body fat, malnutrition, high incidence of death from exposure to cold in winter and a build-up of parasites and diseases in deer”.

Natalia agrued the justification for the culls “is not evidence-based” and that “hundreds of animals lose their lives for no clear reason”.

She said The Royal Parks need to start using alternative methods of curbing the animal populations such as using pigeon lofts, which are used to replace eggs with dummy ones, or contraception for deer, which is not available yet in the UK but widely used in the United States.

She added: “They need to engage with the science.”

A Royal Parks spokeswoman said: “The Royal Parks are carefully-managed spaces and complex environments inhabited by thousands of species of animals and plants.

“Over 77 million people visit each year.

“Maintaining and enhancing a diversity of wildlife is at the heart of our work.

“It’s a very careful balancing act to make sure that the wildlife can co-exist and flourish in the parks’ delicate ecosystems.

“Without effective management some species across the 5,000 acres of parkland could fail to thrive or disappear altogether.

“Our humane approach to animal management also ensures the survival of ancient trees and other rare habitats – which in turn support a rich variety of other animals.”