Up to 10,000 murders a year – no witnesses. The dark secret of cub hunting

Every autumn, across the UK, something despicable happens during early mornings or late evenings, when it is still dark.

Selected members of registered hunts meet for cub hunting. They keep this very secret; only a few people are invited, and the hunters dress in discrete tweeds called “rat catchers”. They meet around small woods and copses deep in private land, out of the view of the public, as they have done for decades.

Hunt followers on foot and on horseback surround the copse, and not just any copse - one they know contains a family of foxes with young cubs. They know which copses have foxes because they have done this for years. They keep records of any fox den they encounter, and pro-hunt landowners who are complicit in this activity tell them where to find them.

Then the huntsman on foot enters the copse with a full pack of hounds, including many young ones which have never hunted before (18 month old hounds which, comparatively speaking, could also be referred to as cubs).

The experienced hounds know what to do. They look for the scent of the fox and if they find it, they make a noise which sounds like a “cry” rather than a bark, and they quickly follow the trail of the scent. Other hounds hear this and join in. The young hounds see all this happening, so they also join in and learn from the others by imitation.

The family of foxes is forced to bolt from their den. If the fox cubs attempt to escape the copse, the riders slap their saddles and boots with their riding crops, and foot followers shout, clap and wave their arms in the air, to frighten the cubs back into the copse.

The foxes may try to escape again and again, but there are many hounds and people, so most will be eventually caught and ripped to pieces, or if they manage to escape they may then be separated from their families for ever. 

Some of the foxes escaping is not a problem for the hunters, because foxes will disperse to wider areas giving the hunts a higher probability of finding one during the normal hunting season.

During cub hunting young hounds also learn how to kill a fox as part of a pack. Dogs have lost many of the hunting instincts that the wolf, the species from which they evolved, had. And foxes were never the natural prey of wolves, so dogs would not instinctively see them as “food”.

So, hounds need to be taught to kill foxes, but if any don’t learn quickly how to do this, or seem too distracted or reluctant to join the others, they may later be shot for not performing as the hunters want.

We estimate that every year about 5,000 hounds are shot by UK hunts for being “surplus to requirements”, or “under-performers”.

Cub Hunting is unjustified, despicable, and illegal. Because of this, the hunts keep it secret by using  the euphemisms “autumn hunting” or “early morning hounds exercise”. Or if you ask them, they simply lie and say that they stopped doing it altogether.

But they haven’t. How do we know this? Because if they don’t do cub hunting, the hounds will not learn to hunt foxes, and when the hunting season proper begins in November the hunts will not be able to hunt illegally under the disguise of “trail hunting”.

We believe that up to 10,000 fox cubs may die every year through cub hunting,  because this is the number of cubs the hunting fraternity “confessed” they were killing before the ban;  and if the immense majority continue to hunt illegally – there’s no reason to believe they aren’t -  the current number will be similar.

When the hunts claim they don’t do cub hunting anymore they rely on the fact that most people will not report them if spotted out and about early in the morning or late in the evening from August to October. And without reports there are no investigations, and without investigations there are no convictions.

Although we believe that cub hunting is very common, there has been only one successful prosecution, in 2012, against members of the Meynell and South Staffordshire Hunt from evidence obtained by the Hunt Saboteurs Association.  If we want this practice to stop, we need to change that.

If you witness something like this, or more importantly hear that something like this may happen soon, report it to the police (and ask for an incident number so you can follow it up) and contact the League’s Animal Crimewatch on 01483 361 108 (or crimewatch@league.org.uk).

Don’t let them get away with it any longer.

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