It seems crazy that in our animal-loving society, cruel 'sports' such as fox hunting have even a slim chance of becoming legal. But from David Cameron's manifesto pledge, to Andrea Leadsom's leadership comments, the chance is very real.
Fox-hunting is extremely cruel. When a fox is caught, it will experience a tortuous death, enduring multiple bites and tears to its body. If it somehow gets away, the stress of the chase can lead to heart failure or irreparable damage. Foxes forced to face terriers underground experience injuries to the face, head and neck. Often, the offspring suffer too. Hunting seasons coincide with when female foxes have cubs in an underground den, meaning if she dies, they will also perish.
Of course, any defence of fox-hunting tends to be shaped around more sensible-sounding arguments. That it is necessary to control the fox population, and to protect livestock. Or that fox-hunting is a cornerstone of country life.
These arguments do have echoes of credibility. But as I've tried to explain below, they don't have a lot.
Argument 1: Fox hunting controls the fox population:
This sounds fairly watertight. When a hunt kills a fox, there is one less of them, and their threat is reduced. But simple logic doesn't tend to apply to animals - particularly the territorial variety.
Foxes are self-regulating meaning their numbers tend to be kept at a steady level regardless of attempts to control them. Their population has not increased since the Hunting Act in 2004, nor did it rise when hunting was banned during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001-02. In fact a study in 2006 in Welsh forests found that culling foxes led to a slight increase in numbers.
The seemingly illogical pattern is driven by foxes' territorial tendencies. Killing a fox will result in a replacement almost immediately (usually within 3 to 4 days). This fox may spread its seed across a wider area more vigorously than the incumbent, thus increasing or stabilising overall numbers.
Of course, even entertaining this argument, gives some fox hunts more credit than they deserve. If it was genuine, then chasing a single fox with up to 40 hounds would be pretty inefficient. And the rationale contradicts quite blatantly with reports from the League Against Cruel Sports of some hunts keeping foxes captive and releasing them just before the season's start.
Argument 2: Fox hunting protects farm animals and farmers' incomes:
Anyone who has livestock will tell you that foxes are a very real threat. I have friends who have lost their fair share of chickens in this way, and it is devastating when it happens. But the extent to which foxes present this danger tends to be exaggerated. And hunting certainly isn't the most effective solution.
As explained above, hunting does not reduce fox numbers. In protecting farm animals it can have the opposite effect. Studies show that foxes new to an area (as a result of the culling of the incumbent) are more likely to target farm animals because they are more visible than wild animals.
Other studies demonstrate that fox attacks tend to be exaggerated. A study on a Scottish Hill Farm showed that only 1% of lamb losses could confidently be attributed to foxes. Lambs are most likely to die from neglect or disease. Of course, foxes will attack poultry, but good protection is the most effective defence.
It's also worth noting that, as natural predators of rabbits, foxes actually save crop farmers significant sums of money.
Argument 3: The Hunting Act is an attack on rural life and tradition:
Those of us opposed to fox-hunting are often dismissed as city-dwelling or politically correct lefties with no concept of country life. This, for me, is one of the more powerful (although no less fallacious) arguments. Traditions are important - they give people a sense of belonging and identity.
But from my standpoint (and as someone from 'the country'), this argument also lacks credibility. Polls by IPSOS Mori consistently show that 80+% of the urban and rural populations are against the legalisation of fox hunting. There is no city/country divide. The UK public is overwhelmingly united regardless of where they live. In my own experience hunting does not involve the mobilisation of the whole countryside - like any fringe activity it is conducted by a small group of people.
Even if we were to ignore the evidence and pretend that the hunt is a core pillar of country life, should it still survive? Personally, I don't think so. Sometimes, tradition has to stand aside for more powerful forces. Our belief in human rights has overcome many oppressive traditions to produce the equality and freedom we experience today. And I believe our care for animals should do the same.
In a democracy like ours the law is an endorsement and extension of the people it represents. Given how much we love animals, there is surely no place for legalising their torture.
If you feel the same way, please join me in standing against it. Whether it's funding brilliant charities such as the League Against Cruel Sports or Animal Aid (to name just a couple), or articulating these arguments whenever the chance arises. You'll find more evidence and eloquence of my arguments in the League Against Cruel Sport's Report here.
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