The UK's hunts traditionally meet on New Year's Day, an event that attracts crowds as it has done for years. Many will admire the horsemanship, the control of the hounds, and the sheer spectacle that a hunt brings. But more and more people are seeing behind the gloss, as the truth about what the hunts really do, and why they do it, increasingly gets revealed.
Let me tell you a story for the new year - and I can assure you, every word is true.
At the League Against Cruel Sports we have a team of investigators, who work hard to ensure that animals aren't being harmed or killed in the name of 'sport'. Earlier this month, they received a tip off - one or more foxes were being kept in an unused brick building on the land of a country estate in the East Midlands.
Strange. Why would anyone keep a fox captive?
Suspicions were raised when our team noted that the local hunt, which meets within a mile of the building, were due to hold a hunt on Thursday 17 December. Of course, all hunts, since the Hunting Act came into force, claim not to hunt actual animals - they say they simply follow false trails. So there couldn't be a connection... could there?
Our investigators went to the building and sure enough, there was a fox. It looked scared, and the conditions in the building were poor - bare floors, mouldy partridge carcasses and no water. We filmed the fox, then decided to step back and watch. We also alerted the police as to what we had seen.
On the day before the hunt was due to meet, a man arrived, checked in on the fox, then left. We had what we needed, so we moved in. The door was unlocked so we were able to safely capture the fox and take him to a wildlife hospital. He was dehydrated but otherwise not too poorly.
Back at the building, on the morning of the hunt, the man reappeared. He was carrying an empty sack, and a pole with a net attached. Clearly he had come to collect the fox.
But the fox wasn't there. Puzzled, he looked around for a while before leaving. It must have been very confusing for him...
A little later, the hunt met, just down the road.
Mystery? For anyone who believes that hunts do not hunt foxes any more, this must be somewhat puzzling. Or for anyone who believes that fox hunts perform an important conservation task by removing troublesome foxes on behalf of farmers, this must also be puzzling. Why would someone capture and then release a fox, if the aim was to get rid of them?
We cannot of course say for sure exactly what was happening here. From experience, we think we know, but we'll leave you to come to your own conclusions.
By the way, we released the fox into a different area, so he is free, and safe. For now.
You can find out more on the League Against Cruel Sports website.
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