Fox Hunting: Pursuing the Inedible

Sitting in a rowing boat on the sparkling river, we sat trying to catch our breath after doing a practice 4 kilometre race piece. Gazing up the riverbank, where the bright sun illuminated the tangled vegetation, I spotted something huddled under the trees. Curled up with his or her tail wrapped warmly around his or her nose, slept a red fox. Pointing him/her out to those in the boat with me we watched as our fox woke, poking his head out to look out across the river. Staring at this beautiful animal there is perhaps one topic that I knew would always be associated with it: Fox hunting.

Fox hunting has long been a topic of debate in the UK, with both sides of the argument fiercely protecting their own point of view. Often, when it comes to this particular argument, those who are pro hunting would claim that those against do not understand the reasons behind the hunt and why it is so ‘important and imperative’ to continue. So, I have an admission to make: I do not understand fox hunting. Well, in all honesty, it is not that I do not understand it, but that I do not agree with it in any sense of the word. This is the moment where those of us against hunting get accused of being ‘bunny huggers’ who only care about this particular debate because we find the fox ‘cute.’ To say that is our only reasoning is a little insulting not only to our intelligence, but to our compassion. We do not disagree with fox hunting because we think ‘how could you do this to this cute little animal’, but more because we think ‘how could you do this to another living creature? Cute or not.’ Believe it or not, the cute factor does not even come into play when we talk about animal welfare and one animal is not considered of greater importance than another because it is ‘cuter.’

Personally, I am a person of science. I believe that if you are going to agree with a theory or argument, you have to be aware of the opposing argument. When it comes to fox hunting, too often the words of ‘tradition’ ‘management’ and ‘sport’ get banded around a little too much. To argue that something should continue because it has traditional value is very weak indeed; there have been many traditions in human history which nowadays, we should be thoroughly ashamed of and were ended due to their cruelty and barbarity.

Management? It is claimed that fox populations need controlling and that fox hunting helps many farmers to control pest fox populations. If this was indeed the case and fox populations did need desperate control measures, it does not make hunting with hounds ‘humane’. There are arguments that shooting a fox could lead to an injured fox, but that hunting with hounds is more humane and allows the fox minimal suffering. However, this relies on the claim that hounds dispatch of a fox through a single nip to the back of the neck, which is now wearing a little thin. We see the evidence to discredit this claim too often, with foxes ‘torn to pieces’  and images too appalling to display. In fact, the suggestion that fox hunting is needed to control fox numbers is disputed by scientific papers (e.g. Baker, Harris and Webbon, 2002), which claim that if hunting was banned entirely, fox populations would not explode. Upland areas are often quoted as suffering from fox predation on livestock, but growing up in an area of upland Northumberland, foxes were barely in evidence, with most farmers I knew believing there were very few, if any, in the area. In fact, there are some among the farming community (including my Grandfather), who would oppose hunts due to the trespassing on farmers land and damage to property.

Sport? I partake in a sport, a sport where those I race against have exactly the same tools at their disposal as I do in order to win. A fox being chased through the countryside by men and women on horseback, with a pack of hounds is not sport, not for the fox. It would be the equivalent of me racing my opposition with everything I need including jet packs and propellors and the opposition having nothing and having to swim to the finish line. I don’t quite think that’s quite  fair.

I read an article recently about the ‘joys’ of fox hunting, describing it as ‘the best sport on God’s green Earth.’ Reading through some of the claims and statements, I found myself using the word ‘deluded’. According to this article, hunting foxes combines so many things that ‘make life worth living’. Speak for yourself. What were these? The beauty of the countryside, the camaraderie, the shared danger (?), the thrill of the chase, living in the moment and the relationship with your horse. Fabulous, but does that justify the brutal killing of an innocent animal? No. It then went on to say that those who portray themselves as animal lovers, like you or I, or Ricky Gervais or Brian May, or anyone who stands up against cruelty, are not the true animal lovers of the world. The true animal lovers are those who can ‘think like the fox’ and use his pack of hounds like a battalion to chase down a fox. Interesting definition of love.

On the other side of this however is the fact that fox hunting currently remains illegal. So what is the problem? The problem it would seem is the blatant disregard for this law. Recently, there have been too many cases of  foxes being killed by hunts, with little apology or recognition for the fact that this was indeed a break of the law. There have even been stories of live fox cubs used to train hounds, traumatised children who witness a kill, hunts trespassing on land and some packs of hounds even killing pet cats. The most recent cause for concern is the story that emerged recently concerning a pack of hounds chasing a whippet on the beach, and then proceeding to bite the dogs owners who protected him. Now, if my one of my dogs attacked and killed another dog or cat, or bit another human being, it is likely they could be ordered to be euthanised. I am not suggesting for a moment that these hounds should be euthanised for such behaviour, but rather that these occurrences are a serious warning about the behaviour of these packs and how they are being trained. When we find ourselves in a situation where our dogs are uncontrollable, that situation becomes unsafe, both for us and the dog. I have worked with many dogs, including those with aggression issues, and one aggressive dogs in itself is a mountain to try to understand and control, but an entire pack egging each other on and hunting together as one mindset? Uncontrollable.

Perhaps the most exasperating part of fox hunting however, is the ability for those who do hunt and end up killing a fox, to trivialise the matter.

“If, on occasion – whoops! – the hounds do chase a fox, things get rather exciting.”

Whoops and exciting. Not exactly two words that you would associate with an individual who is taking the law seriously. In fact, this sentence would indicate that there is no attempt to control the hunt and the pack, nor to try to stop the hunt should they come across a fox. There is a sort of conceited and monumental arrogance associated with the human race when we believe ourselves to be more important creatures than others, due to our higher levels of intelligence. Is it not this intelligence which has destroyed habitats, caused extinctions, damaged the ozone layer and is contributing to climate change and all of its impacts? But we’ll just ignore that. The idea that foxes, or any other animals that we mistreat do not have the ability to feel pain and fear is at worst, completely and utterly incorrect, and at best, an extraordinary assumption. In 2017, I do not understand how bear baiting is totally illegal, dog fighting is illegal and yet fox hunting, a practice just as brutal and just as cruel is sort of banned but not really and is allowed to continue at all. I have heard some say the difference is that bears and dogs are confined to a ring and the fox is free. So, if the dogs and bears were not confined, would bear baiting and dog fighting be legal? No. What if a murderer were to say that? Hey, they could have run away!

Or perhaps those of us who oppose fox hunting do not really care for animal welfare or human welfare, perhaps we are just out for ourselves?  I have heard such words used as an argument and, in all honesty, it makes no sense and is hugely cynical. What could we possibly be out to gain? This is not a class war and the perceived social standing or monetary wealth of some of those who may partake in this activity is of no interest to those of  us who do not agree with fox hunting. Our interest is the fox and the protection of all animals from unnecessary pain, fear and suffering. To argue that an animal that is pursued relentlessly by humans, horses and a pack of excited hounds, and is finally brutally killed, is not an issue for animal welfare, is nonsensical. If you were to pursue a human in the same way with the same outcome, nobody would be suggesting that such an activity was in any way acceptable or humane.

Fox hunting is not an activity to be proud of. It only reflects the bad, calculating and cold side of the human character. If you can watch and participate in a sport that may well end with a defenceless animal being killed in the most painful and horrific way, and not to  flinch, not care for that individual life, there is perhaps something not right there.

This is again the moment where again we get accused of being ‘bunny huggers’, ‘not understanding countryside management’ and even get the odd insult such as ‘idiots’ (such a logical and refined argument) thrown around. However, I am willing to accept such criticisms if it means I can stand up against a practice I do not believe in. In fact, I would rather challenge 100 men on horseback with their 100 hounds any day, than be involved in a cruel and brutal sport that causes stress, exhaustion and monumental suffering to a defenceless and frightened animal.

“Fox Hunting…the unspeakable pursuing the inedible.” – Oscar Wilde.

“Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.” ― Arthur Schopenhauer.

“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

Baker. P. J,  Harris. S, Webbon. C. C (2002). Ecology: Effect of British hunting ban on fox numbers. Nature419.

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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