March 31, 2014
Fox Hunting Ban Under Threat
Should we allow foxes to be chased, killed and ripped apart by packs of dogs? It’s an age-old debate that never ceases to arouse passionate argument and it is back on the agenda again in the UK. British Prime Minister David Cameron has just announced that backdoor plans to ease restrictions on fox hunting have been abandoned due not just to opposition from outside his party but also from a significant minority within it. Without equivocation, he nailed his colors to the mast by calling this decision “regrettable.” In spite of the 2004 Hunting Act banning the old barbaric tradition of hunting foxes and other mammals with hounds, the issue has never gone away. This is one area where most people jump off the fence. You are either for it or against it and I know where I stand.
The 2004 Act, which became effective in February 2005, supposedly made it illegal to use more than two dogs when hunting, aiming to end around 500 years of traditional fox hunting. Since then there have been more than 400 prosecutions of both recognized hunts and poachers for defying the ban. Nevertheless, animal welfare groups believe the Act has generally been obeyed and successful. Lobbying by upland farmers, particularly sheep farmers in the Welsh Hills, has encouraged the Conservative party under Cameron to reconsider the ban and allow hunting with more than two dogs, with foxes being shot after being flushed out, claiming that foxes are becoming a serious pest in their areas. When the coalition government between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats was formed after the 2010 election, the coalition agreement included a promise to allow MPs a free vote on the issue. With little over a year to go to the next election there has been no vote. Many political commentators believe it will not happen before the election. But it became clear recently that the Conservatives, who have a large core vote among the legions of hunt supporters, were planning to side-step the problem by tabling an amendment. In response to a question from another MP, David Cameron confirmed the plan but also admitted it had been dropped.
The proposed easing of the law would inevitably have meant a gradual return to the pre-2004 days of widespread traditional fox hunting. The whole heated argument hinges on whether the hunting of foxes with dogs is cruel but there is the added element, especially in the UK, of what was seen as a social activity. No doubt the sight of a full hunt with a large pack of hounds and riders on horseback dressed in a full uniform, usually with resplendent red jackets, was a great spectacle. If people want to dress up in funny clothes and have a jolly old time prancing around the country on horses that’s fine by me. There are still almost 200,000 hunt members or devotees doing their best to find substitute ways to recreate the “thrill of the hunt.” Without the ultimate prize of finding and catching the fox, however, the pursuit seems empty and just a shadow of the old ways.
It comes down to this. Do you believe, as the hunt lobby does, that the fox does not suffer unduly during the chase and is killed quickly by a crushing bite to the back of the head by a hound four times its weight and that this is the most efficient way to control a species which can be a true pest? Or do you believe that fox hunting is indiscriminate, causing unnecessary cruelty to “good” and “bad” foxes alike, and that too many foxes die in great pain and fear as the pack gets to them before the fatal bite? Is the efficient pest control claim just an excuse for a good day out with a bit of blood at the end when, in a highly technological world there has to be a better way?
I will leave the last word to Oscar Wilde, who described “the English country Gentleman galloping after a fox” as nothing more than the “unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.”
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