Bovine TB, the disease ravaging herds of cattle across England and Wales, has been discovered in a pack of hounds used for fox hunting – prompting urgent calls for hunting to be suspended indefinitely.

Animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports are calling for all hunting to be stopped immediately to ensure that the thousands of hounds used in the ‘sport’ cannot spread the disease.

Eduardo Gonçalves, CEO of the League, which received a tip off about the outbreak from the organisation Hounds Off, said:

“The implications of this outbreak are huge. We already know that restricting the movement of animals in the countryside is the only effective way of controlling bTB, but thousands of hunt hounds are free to chase from field to field, farm to farm and across private and National Trust land pretty much on a daily basis during the hunting season. How on earth can this be allowed to continue now we know that at least some hounds have caught the disease?

“It would be a farce if hunting was allowed to continue while bovine TB is rife. All hunting with dogs – much of which is already illegal – must be suspended with immediate effect at least until bTB is under control. To do anything else – or to do nothing – would raise serious questions as to who is really in charge of looking after our countryside.

“There are more than 50 hunts operating in parts of the country where bTB is particularly widespread. Are we looking at the real reason why the disease can’t be controlled?”

The League estimates that there are more than 3,000 hunting hounds in the England Btb epidemic zone alone, which may be out in the countryside an average of two days a week during the six-month hunting season.

Although hunting with hounds was banned by the Hunting Act 2004, hunts continue to take place. These usually claim to be ‘trail’ hunting or hunting under one of the exemptions of the Act, but the League believes these are false claims and most are hunting illegally.

Joe Hashman, founder of www.houndsoff.co.uk, an organisation which supports people negatively affected by hunts said: "It is because Hounds Off works with local people in local communities that we are able to find out things which might otherwise be kept secret. With the link between the Kimblewick Hunt hounds and bovine tuberculosis now confirmed, Hounds Off calls for the immediate blanket suspension of all hunting by all packs of hounds pending further investigations and enquiries."

Kennel with biosecurity warning

Kimblewick Hunt

Following a tip off, supporters of Hounds Off discovered the outbreak after noticing that riders of the Kimblewick Hunt, which is based near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, were wearing different uniforms than normal.

Conversations with hunt supporters revealed that other hunts were riding in the area because the Kimblewick’s pack of hounds had been euthanised after contracting bTB. Information given to Hounds Off included claims that the dogs have contracted bTB after eating meat from infected cattle, and that at least 40 dogs had been euthanised.

After being contacted by a journalist, both Defra and the hunt confirmed that there had been a bTB outbreak at the kennels.

Eduardo Gonçalves said:

“It’s sad enough that these dogs caught bTB, as the symptoms are awful – they can become anorexic, suffer shortness of breath and vomiting before they are simply destroyed. But what is even more shocking is that the Kimblewick Hunt has clearly tried to make this go away. Instead of shutting down and ensuring that the disease was eradicated, they have invited other hunts – with their dogs – onto their land to continue hunting.

“There is a possibility that those dogs will then have returned to their own areas, potentially spreading the disease across new farms, but it is also possible that they may get infected in their own territory if BTb also happens there. We know there have been Btb outbreaks near where many hunts operate – are the hunts to blame?"

Bio-security timebomb

After hearing about the outbreak, the League Against Cruel Sports sent trained investigators to the kennels. Animal carcasses could be seen in the open with dogs wandering around freely. Small signs declaring that biosecurity measures were in place, though no indication of real biosecurity measures, such as vehicle disinfection, were seen.

“The biosecurity measures in place are a joke,” said Mr Gonçalves. “Where is the cordon? Where are the Defra officials? They are gambling with the health of the public as well as the welfare of thousands of dogs and livelihoods of thousands of farmers.

“It is believed that the dogs caught the disease from eating infected meat or by being allowed to run in fields where infected cattle had recently been. Hunt kennels routinely collect carcasses from local farmers and use them as cheap meat to feed the dogs, in exchange for letting them hunt on their land. This has been a time-bomb waiting to explode.”

Cover up?

A message on the Master of Fox Hounds website seems to have been posted this week, though dated 28th February, claims that ‘Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) was suspected in hounds at the Kimblewick in December (and subsequently confirmed at the end of January)’. It also claims that the hunt suspended hunting, and that Defra did not impose any movement or other restrictions as ‘it does not consider that there is any increased risk to wildlife and farm stock’

Eduardo Gonçalves said:

“The Kimblewick may or may not have suspended hunting, but other hunts have been coming in, running their hounds across the same land the Kimblewick would have used, then going home – potentially spreading the disease to other areas. And if Defra were aware of this, would farmers who are suffering the full impact of Btb be happy to know that the department which is meant to be leading the fight against the disease allowed it to happen?

“Questions also need to be asked of public health and agriculture officials. Why wasn’t a stop to all hunt hound movements immediately enacted and enforced? There are a number of Defra Ministers with strong links to the hunt lobby. Did they intervene to influence Defra’s response? A full inquiry into Defra’s actions, including whether or not these have potentially compromised public health interests, needs to take place immediately in order to clarify these issues.

“The public also needs to know that the current Minister for Animal Welfare at DEFRA, Lord Gardiner, is the former Director of Political Affairs at the Countryside Alliance – and is an Honorary Member of the Kimblewick Hunt. Serious questions must now be asked about whether Lord Gardiner is more interested in protecting hunting than protecting farmers and public health.”

Suspend hunting - now

“If the government doesn’t act decisively to control the spread of disease by stopping hunting, we could be looking at thousands of dogs having to be destroyed in addition to the devastation among cattle,” said Mr Gonçalves. “This would cause uproar, not least because it could have been avoided if only the government and the hunt lobby had acted properly. 

“The hunting fraternity will no doubt resist any moves to curtail their activities. However it is their stubbornness in trying to circumvent the ban by continuing to hunt illegally with dogs that has helped create this crisis.  They need to be held to account, and the authorities should not be bowed by the pressure they will doubtless come under to water down measures to control the spread of disease from hunting.”


CONTACT DEFRA TODAY


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Notes to Editors

  • Please contact the League’s Press Office on 01483 524250 (24hrs) or email press@league.org.uk for any image, comment or interview requests
  • The League Against Cruel Sports is Britain's leading charity that works to stop animals being persecuted, abused and killed for sport. The League was instrumental in helping bring about the landmark Hunting Act. We carry out investigations to expose law-breaking and cruelty to animals and campaign for stronger animal protection laws and penalties. We work to change attitudes and behaviour through education and manage sanctuaries to protect wildlife. Find out more about our work at league.org.uk. Registered charity in England and Wales (no.1095234) and Scotland (no.SC045533).
  • Bovine TB - briefing

Bovine tuberculosis (Btb) is a bacterial infectious disease of cattle that can infect other species, such as deer, goats, pigs, cats, dogs, llamas, and badgers. It is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), which is not the same bacterium that typically causes Tuberculosis in humans (Mycobacterium tuberculosis), although humans can on occasion get infected by Btb as well.

It is not known the exact way other species get infected, but it could be by drinking the same water, sharing food, contact with faeces, close physical contact, or eating animals that had the disease. In cattle, it is mainly a respiratory disease, but the symptoms may be different in other species.

A 2011 study in Ireland confirmed that hunting hounds can get infected with Btb.  If hunting hounds are fed cattle that were infected with Btb, or are left to run in fields where infected cattle have recently been, there is the possibility that the dogs may become infected. Equally, as the transmission routes of this disease are not very well known, infected hounds left to roam in the countryside may be spreading the disease.

Therefore, considering that there is an epidemic of Btb in cattle in England and an outbreak has now been confirmed in hounds from an area within the epidemic zone, the prudent course of action should be to stop all hunting activities until the Btb epidemic in cattle is under control, a measure that was taken in 2001 when there was an epidemic of food and mouth disease.