Fox Hunting in the UK
Conflicted and confused
Our attitude to non-human animals is deeply conflicted and incoherent. We have an entirely inconsistent approach to the issue of animal cruelty. We love and cherish dogs, cats, and other animals with whom we live and whom we tend to consider “pets”. Meanwhile, it is an established neurozoological fact that pigs are significantly more cognitively developed than both dogs and cats, and likely have a more complex emotional and cognitive relationship with the world. Nonetheless, it is considered acceptable that pigs are made to suffer and die for the production of “food”. People are often very sensitive to the needs of the dogs and other animals that live alongside them, and tend to think of them as possessing both character and intelligence, which of course they do. Meanwhile, pigs, oxen, chickens, and numerous other animals with an equal or even greater capacity to suffer, including many wild animals, are subjected to measureless agony, limitless suffering, and ultimately the eternal oblivion of an unjust, violent death. Furthermore, this all happens with no justification. Typically, it occurs merely in order that the food and textile industries may continue to produce completely unnecessary (and often very unhealthy) products.
Likewise, we consider it unacceptable, nay maddening, if someone deliberately harms animals such as dogs and cats, as well as certain wild animals, especially if they do so purely for enjoyment. But if that person is “hunting” certain other animals, then they are simply free to carry on deriving sadistic joy from such sick practices.
Just recently, an offender in the USA was given 45 years imprisonment for shooting and killing a dog. Meanwhile, another was given 15 years for abusing several dogs. More recently still others have received similar sentences for killing and abusing dogs. Progress of a sort perhaps. Meanwhile, the same society allows the unmitigated violation of pigs and other animals, and wilfuly blinds itself to the unconscionable practices of slaughterhouses and similar operations. Additionally, huge protests against the Yulin dog meat festival have taken place in western countries, where horrified occidentals, without a sniff of irony, berate the Chinese for violating the wrong animals!
It is true to say that public opinion is very slowly changing as society evolves. Nonetheless, the hypocrisy remains. Certainly, abolition of animal agriculture, whilst a realistic ultimate goal, is not likely to happen soon. In the meantime, some acts of cruelty have been criminalized, and others still are likely to be criminalized eventually. Unfortunately, anti-cruelty laws such as these, in most cases, are in their infancy, and are not very well written or enforced.
The tradition of maiming wild animals for "fun"
For at least 5 centuries, foxes have been hunted in the UK, especially in England and Wales. The practice originated as an effort to control the fox population on grazing land due to fears that young livestock animals may be at risk from attacks by foxes. It is useful to note that the frequently heard claim that hunting is necessary for reasons of population control is in itself largely baseless. Although, even if it were accurate, it would be predicated on the notion that livestock farming is in itself necessary, whereas, as we know, it is not. Likewise, foxes, being prolific apex predators, are extremely good regulators of smaller herbivorous mammals such as rabbits, which can cause substantial agricultural losses from arable cropping.
Essentially, fox hunting involves a gang of absurdly dressed yokels and toffs pursuing a pack of hounds, who in turn chase a fox until she is exhausted and unable to keep pace, at which point she is mauled to death by the hounds. It is a sort of colourful festival of sadism.
Fox hunting continued to be a lawful activity up until the early C21st, at which point several laws were enacted, seemingly prohibiting fox hunting and offering some protection to foxes, although without making them a so-called “protected species”. The Hunting Act 2004, in England and Wales, and the Protection of Wild Animals (Scotland) Act 2002, in Scotland, both appeared to provide foxes with some enhanced degree of freedom from persecution. (For completeness, let it be noted that Northern Ireland has so far failed to enact any appropriate law pertaining to the protection of wild animals from hunting.) However, both acts are extremely disappointing from the point of view of animal liberation, because both acts include a plethora of exceptions and are worded with profound and arbitrary particularity, the result being that the acts are riddled with holes. This greatly undermines their usefulness, rendering them both very difficult to enforce, and, symmetrically, very easy to exploit.
Hunt monitors and saboteurs continue to do a very important, noble, and brave job, investigating and recording the activities of the many hunts taking place around the country. They often put their own personal safety at grave risk in the process, as hunt supporters, being out-of-control sadists, are notorious for their use of physical violence against people as well.
Reforms, with the aim of banning fox hunting, gained immense public support. However, even though most members of the general public assume that fox hunting has been abolished, the reality, as demonstrated by evidence gathered and published by hunt monitors day in day out, is that it continues, just as before.
The hunts were very quick to start exploiting the various loopholes and exceptions in the new laws, in order to be able to continue hunting as before. One such loophole is to pretend to be engaging in so-called “trail hunting”. Trail hunting is a largely mythical activity. In theory, trail hunting begins with the huntsmen laying a trail using some kind of scent (often using dead foxes, interestingly) for the hounds, and then allowing the hounds to simply follow the scent. In reality, this is just a ruse. Often, no trail is set. Also, very frequently, a trail is set over a very limited area – just enough to create the impression that trail hunting is being conducted. Then, if and when foxes are killed (which is almost always), they can claim that they were attempting to trail hunt when the dogs unexpectedly came across a fox. A large scale survey carried out by animal rights activists over a period of several years found that supposed trail hunting was only ever genuine trail hunting in a tiny minority of cases.
Another fatuous and gratuitous loophole is that one is allowed to hunt with hounds in order to drive the fox toward a falconer bearing a bird of prey, in order that hunting by falconry can then be carried out. This has led to hunts carrying out normal fox hunting, but with one of the gang carrying a bird of prey, such as a hawk or eagle, as an excuse for chasing the fox with hounds.
There are also several other such loopholes around the reasons for hunting and the number of hounds involved.
Additionally, a range of other inhumane acts are frequently being carried out by fox hunters, some of which are also crimes. A particularly common example of this is digging in badger sets, potentially killing the badgers, so that the foxes cannot “go to ground” in them. It is also not unusual for hunters to breed and raise fox cubs, before releasing them, sometimes using artificial earths. They may also feed them in the wild so that they become more trusting of human beings and less likely to flee, allowing them to be caught and killed more easily. Such activities further demonstrate that the idea of hunting having some kind of role to play in terms of population control is just an outright lie. They also remind us just how cowardly the people who persecute wild animals really are.
The police and the justice system, so far, have turned a blind eye to all of this.
It is not clear why they are so reluctant to challenge the hunts, although an obvious and popular theory is that, since the leading huntsmen and huntswomen in many hunts tend to be influential members of society, such as politicians, judges, business people, and even senior police officers, the police are unwilling to challenge the hunt, as doing so would mean challenging their elders and betters.
One benefit that might come from all this suffering is that it can be used to bring to the attention of the general public just how ineffectual and unbalanced our legislative and judicial approach to the issue of animal cruelty is. This could have the effect of intensifying public support for stricter legal provisions to protect non-human animals, leading to a strengthening of the law. A more significant outcome would be for the general public to become more sensitized to and appreciative of animal rights issues, and to develop a more consistent and coherent view of how we should treat animals, comprehending and conceding that cruelty to animals is not acceptable, regardless of species. In the meantime, and until the general public notices the madness with which it has so far been afflicted, great numbers of innocent beings will continue to maimed and murdered for no good reason whatsoever.