Hunting - The Myths
We address some of the common myths relating to hunting.
The fox is a pest
Despite being regarded as a pest by some, foxes are not considered to be as much of a problem as rabbits1. As rabbits make up the majority of fox diets (in arable and pastoral landscapes) and are held responsible for £100 million of agricultural damage2 in comparison to the £12 million foxes cause3, they are by no means a main culprit of damage.
In studies the most common reason given to cull foxes was to reduce fox predation on livestock and game. Studies however have shown that lamb mortality due to foxes is so low as to be considered insignificant4 . It is a fiercely debated topic whether fox predation has a significant impact on wild game populations5. Studies into fox predation on pheasants during their time in release pens concluded that fox predation is perceived as a minor problem and that the average percentage loss was between 1% - 3% 6.
Foxhunting is pest control or a significant method of controlling numbers
In 2006 the estimated fox population was 250,000 before the breeding season7. It is estimated that around 400,000 foxes die each year. The registered packs are estimated to kill approximately 21,000-25,000 foxes a year and so are responsible for 6.25% of the overall fox mortality in a year. The following table summarises the results from a questionnaire based research project on the methods by which foxes were killed on their land8.
|Dug out using terriers
|Shot (including lamping)
|Other culling methods
|Total number of foxes culled
Fox numbers are not regulated by culling pressure or food availability but are actually governed mostly by social factors. It has been shown that the winter culling of foxes has no impact on spring breeding numbers. In fact it has been suggested that fox culling can actually increase the number of immigrants into the area9.
It has been clearly shown that there can be no reasonable cause to cull foxes for reasons of population control, health or fitness. The effect on the population simply is not a significant factor. To suggest that chasing and killing foxes is in some way for their own good or of any benefit to the overall fitness of the population is delusional in the extreme and insults the large amount of scientific work done in the area of fox habitats and populations.
Further to this foxhunts have traditionally been responsible for building and maintaining artificial earths. These are designed to encourage foxes to live and breed in hunting areas to maintain a supply of foxes to be hunted. In 2011 a League investigation uncovered artificial earths across England being supplied with food10. This further indicates that the purpose of fox hunting is not to control fox numbers.
Foxhounds kill foxes with a nip to the back of the neck
The Burns Inquiry11 stated that ‘it is an over-simplification to say that foxes are almost invariably killed by the leading hound grabbing the fox's neck’. A study of foxes killed by hounds above ground and submitted for post mortem examination indicated that the animals died from profound trauma inflicted by multiple dog bites rather than a quick bite to the neck12.
It is also important to remember that when being chased by the hounds, a fox will often attempt to escape underground. At this point a terrier is often sent down the hole to hold the fox at bay while the terriermen dig out the fox. As the fox is unable to escape it will then experience high levels of fear which, without being able to escape, will increase over time13. It was concluded by the Burns Inquiry that: The activity of digging out and shooting a fox involves a serious compromise of its welfare, bearing in mind the often protracted nature of the process and the fact that the fox is prevented from escaping14.
Foxhunts only kill weak and sick foxes and so contribute to the fitness of a population
Prior to the Hunting Act 2004, 40% of the foxes killed by registered hunts were killed during the cub hunting season15.
During traditional cub hunting, woods are surrounded and the foxes are prevented from escaping. Other traditional fox hunting techniques include sustaining artificial fox earths, blocking the entrances to badger setts to prevent hunted foxes from escaping underground and when any foxes do escape underground, terriermen are brought in to dig out and kill the fox. None of these techniques ensure that only old and sick foxes are selectively culled.
In addition to this, fox hunts do not play a significant role in managing fox populations and even if only old foxes were killed this still would not have a significant impact on the health of the species.
The use of dogs is a natural method of managing species16 hunting with hounds is not dissimilar to the way in which a pack of wolves would hunt
Hunting in the UK does not and cannot take place without human intervention and as humans are considered predators of many UK species, we cannot remove ourselves from the obligations we have to them. The way animals behave in the wild is not acceptable behaviour for humans, who are very much a part of the hunting process. Humans have a moral responsibility to ensure that their necessary actions cause as little suffering as possible and that any form of population management is conducted as humanely as possible17.
The ‘natural chase’ argument does not take into account the unnatural advantage the pack of hounds has over its prey species. They are trained, fed, treated for illness and disease and are then accompanied, instructed and encouraged at every level of the hunt. The lone prey has no such advantage. This is in no way a natural predator – prey dynamic18.
The act of hunting does not take place solely by the pack of hounds. The humans on horseback, terriermen, foot-followers and supporters are all very much part of the predator group. The hunting process is facilitated, planned and carried out by humans and assisted by the hounds.
The hounds involved in hunting follow orders from the huntsman. Artificial earths have been used to encourage foxes into an area and routes are blocked to interfere with the fox’s natural escape. These physical barriers force the fox to go into unknown territories and prevent the fox from exhibiting its natural behaviour. If a fox goes to ground, digging out often occurs. The process of digging out involves many stresses including proximity to humans, the presence of a pack of hounds, a terrier, noise and the inability to escape from the situation.
The unnatural conditions of being hunted by people and a pack of hounds and all the preceding events leading up to the point of death are of a level of cruelty which cannot be allowed to become legal again.
Huntsmen love their hounds
Historically it has been common practice to put hounds down at the end of their working lives19 around 6 – 8 years, or when a foxhound becomes too slow to keep up with the pack. There have also been numerous occasions when hounds have been injured or killed on roads20 and railway lines21 and when terriers have been injured or killed during terrierwork.
Foxes kill for pleasure
Foxes don't waste food. If they find or kill more than they can eat at one sitting, they bury (cache) the food to eat later22.
In some unnatural circumstances, such as in a hen house, where the prey cannot escape, this behaviour, called "surplus killing", leads to the fox killing far more prey than it could ever consume23.