No happy ending for Bambi
Posted 18th June 2018
Roe deer are small, solitary animals that live in British woodland. The British Deer Society describe them as dainty creatures with large black eyes, which make dog-like barking noises when startled or alarmed. Roe deer are the species of deer that Felix Salten wrote about in his 1920s novel Bambi, later made into a Disney film, in which the eponymous hero loses his mother to hunters. Most of us would delight in them. Yet despite the ban on hunting being introduced 14 years ago, they are still being chased and killed by men on horseback with packs of baying hounds.
Driven to extinction in England and Wales by hunting, roe deer were reintroduced in the 19th Century. Since World War I they have been hunted again. Unlike larger breeds such as red deer whose mature stags can weigh nearly 200 kg and possess mighty antlers, roe deer do not have the size or power to hold the hounds at bay. When tired from the chase, many lie down in cover, only to be found and torn apart by the hounds, rather than being finished off by a huntsman with a shotgun.
Hunting takes place between August and May every year. Mature males, known as bucks, are targeted from August through October, before the females, known as does, possibly pregnant and caring for their young, are chased and killed throughout winter. The hunting season continues into spring, when the hunt switches to young bucks. The hunt itself takes place in the woodland that is home to roe deer, rather than the open ground favoured by the larger red deer, with the roe deer invariably chased round and round in circles before the kill. It’s the territory the roe deer know. It’s the territory, tragically, where the roe deer die.
They are also a species whose young emit a high-pitched whistle when they lose contact with their mother, according to experts. Tragically there is no happy ending if the mother doe is killed by the hunt today. This isn’t Bambi. This isn’t a novel or a film. The youngster dies too. This is happening. It’s happening here, and it’s happening now.
The hunting is now confined to Devon and Somerset, although the League occasionally gets reports from around the country of fox hunts killing roe deer. It’s not as well-known as the hunting of red deer, Britain’s largest mammal, which also takes place in the west country.
Three large, well-supported and financed hunts, chase and kill red deer. One of these, the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, exploits loopholes in the UK’s hunting law – the Research and Observation loophole – which many have caustically compared to the excuses used by the Japanese whaling fleet. The other two hunts – the Quantock Staghounds and Tiverton Staghounds – just hunt. Legally or illegally, they don’t seem to care. Killing is their passion.
The two surviving roe deer hunts are the Exe Valley Buckhounds and the Cheldon Buckhounds, throwbacks to an earlier age.
The two hunts are secretive, with shadowy, operating practices. They are not much loved. They lack the big crowds which follow the red deer hunts, though in May, when the red deer hunts have stopped, they attract a few of the latter’s more ardent and barbaric supporters desperate for more blood. They generally meet in pubs and the alcohol fuels the violence they display towards the deer.
The Cheldon Buckhounds are also known for their violence towards people monitoring their activity and masked followers recently broke the skull of an individual from a hunt saboteur group.
The roe deer hunts are even shunned by the red deer hunts. Following a particularly unpleasant incident in the 1990s, the Master of Deer Hounds Association turned their back on them.
Paul Tillsey, the League’s Head of Conservation and Education, recently photographed the Exe Valley Buckhounds meeting next to St John’s Wood, a piece of land in Somerset, purchased by Sir Paul McCartney in the 1990s for the League Against Cruel Sports, to provide a sanctuary for deer.
He has also had the misfortune to witness the same hunt kill a roe deer before the hunting ban was introduced and has also seen the hunt chasing a roe deer recently. He saw their hounds chase a deer along a stream under the A396, witnessing the terrified animal trying to escape as it moved from one patch of woodland into another. This time he didn’t know the fate of the poor creature.
Kevin Hill worked for the League back in the 1990s and filmed the Cheldon Buckhounds as a hunt member dragged a distressed roe deer off the fence of a League Sanctuary, sat on it for many minutes before bundling it in to a Land Rover that had subsequently arrived, before it was undoubtedly killed.
Kevin then went undercover and followed the deer hunts, posing as a supporter and uncovering the brutal and bloodthirsty practices taking place before the hunting ban.
Kevin spoke passionately about his memories of witnessing a roe deer being hunted, saying: “There is no defence for subjecting a roe deer to the suffering it sustains during a hunt. This small beautiful deer does not have the strength for long runs and will be chased to complete exhaustion until it is unable to move. I have witnessed a roe deer at the end of a hunt – the scene of a hunter restraining the deer will be with me forever.”
The horrible truth is that hunting is still taking place today. We know, thanks to a blatant admission in the Horse and Hounds magazine, that hundreds of red deer are being slaughtered by the Devon and Somerset Staghounds every year.
We know too that roe deer are also being targeted. We don’t know yet how many are being killed. We do know it needs to be stopped. And quickly.
We’re calling on the Hunting Act to be strengthened and for any loopholes in it to be closed. We’re calling for effective deterrents such as custodial sentences to be brought in.
We’re calling for an end to the slaughter. The cruelty. The sheer, bestial savagery that is still taking place.
C’mon everyone. Let’s all stand up for Bambi.