Fox Hunting: Should the 2 dog limit be lifted?

By Abbie Dalton, AVS Welfare Rep

On 15th July 2015, a 90 minute debate will be held on the issue of fox hunting, with a ‘free vote’ issued to decide whether the ban on using dogs to hunt foxes should be lifted or not. This is a debate which divides much of the population; some want to preserve the tradition of fox hunting, others feel it is a major animal welfare issue and the limit should be upheld. This article aims to provide information on both sides of the argument, from an animal welfare point of view, so that you can make up your own minds on foxhunting. 

For fox hunting

As with all wild animals, care must be taken to ensure that populations do not get out of control, and some argue that fox hunting is a good way to do this. As the fox population increases (especially considering the lack of natural predators of the fox), there would be increased numbers of these animals dying from disease, starvation or road traffic accidents, which are all in themselves inhumane. The nature of the hunt, in which the animal is chased by hounds before being caught and killed, is argued by some as being the most humane method of culling – the flight response on the animal is natural when pursued by a predator, and upon catching the animal it is claimed that death (by cervical dislocation or massive trauma to the abdomen/ thorax) is almost instantaneous. The release of endorphins and encephalins during the chase would also significantly reduce the perception of pain. Another argument for the hunting of foxes involves the damage they do to farm animals. Many will have heard stories about lambs being savaged and whole poultry sheds being eliminated, and aside from the loss of animal life, this has a severe impact on the livelihoods of the farmers who are dependent on these animals. In the same way that the badger cull is justified to prevent bovine TB, it can be argued that fox hunting can be justified for the protection of farm animals. Clearly fox populations must be controlled but is there a more humane way to do this? Pro-hunters argue not. Shooting animals, an obvious alternative, can cause its own welfare problems, especially if the animal is merely wounded and manages to make an escape. In order to prevent this, it would be necessary for trained personnel to undertake the shooting, which would be expensive. For certain death to be achieved by shooting, the animal would need to be shot at point blank range into the cranium, which would require the trapping of the animal, perhaps in cages. As a flight animal, this could arguably result in more stress for the fox than chasing it, and can result in self-mutilation as the fox attempts to free itself. 

Against fox hunting 

Whether other methods of culling are worse or not, it cannot be denied that the process of fox hunting is cruel. Arguments that stress to the animal is minimal still acknowledge that the animal experiences  some acute stress during the chase as well as pain on capture, hence the slaughter of foxes cannot be compared to the slaughter of meat producing animals, in which efforts are made to reduce stress as far as possible. Some kills may result in instantaneous death, yet owing to the nature of the capture it is impossible to determine that all kills are instantaneous, and there could indeed be greater suffering that the pro-hunters are aware of. The argument about the killing of farm animals is counteracted by anti-hunters, who claim that foxes are naturally scavengers, hence many of the lambs found to have been eaten by foxes are likely to have died by natural causes, starvation or extreme weather conditions (it is estimated that 0.5-3% of lambs are killed by foxes, compared to 25% killed by poor husbandry). Although foxes have the remarkable ability to scale large fences, some would say that chicken deaths could be avoided with more secure accommodation. The culling of foxes is also arguably of less significance than the pro-hunters imply. In accordance with the UK Government Burns Commission the effect of fox hunting is almost insignificant on the fox population, owing to the self-regulating nature of territorial predator populations – when populations increase, the relative food supply per animal decreases and owing to competition, the predator population will then decrease accordingly. When hunting was suspended during the foot and mouth outbreak, fox populations did not increase, yet research has shown that when deliberate action is made to kill foxes in an area there is in fact an increase in fox numbers, owing to decreased competition. Indeed, the main way in which fox populations are kept under control is through road traffic accidents; this is certainly an inhumane death yet one which is largely outside our control, unlike fox hunting. Perhaps the greatest reason for opposition to the hunt is the idea that people are using the deaths of these animals more for pleasure than practical use. Although many of the ‘for’ arguments are logical, most pro-hunters want the ban to be appealed in favour of ‘tradition’ and ‘sport’. Farmed animals may be killed for the production of food, badgers culled to prevent disease spread, yet the main reason for fox hunting is for the enjoyment of those few who participate. No animal cruelty should be performed for the entertainment of humans, and that is why activities such as dog and cock fights have been banned – surely the same should apply to fox hunting. Alternatives can easily be implemented such as drag hunting (in which a scent is laid out by humans for the hounds to follow), which would still allow those participants to enjoy all the other aspects of hunting, just without the cruelty.

The authors view

As a vet student, I am very much aware that animal death is part of the life we live, and where there is logical reason for culling I try not to get too sentimental about animal deaths. That said, I have also always been very opposed to the use of animals for human pleasure which has involved unnecessary cruelty to that animal, something which I always judged fox hunting to be. Following my research, I must admit there is some logic in the arguments laid out by pro-hunters, particularly in terms of the current alternatives to fox hunting – certainly trapping and shooting by amateurs would result in significantly more stress and still ultimately the deaths of the foxes, and is not a suitable technique. In terms of farming, any animal lost to the farmer is a loss of income that many farmers cannot afford, and steps must be taken to reduce losses owing to fox predation; however I am unconvinced that fox hunting itself is the answer – no matter how many foxes are culled, if animal accommodation is not suitable for keeping foxes out then there will ultimately be losses. Similarly, losses owing to foxes are far smaller than losses owing to poor nutrition and low colostrum, severe weather or unfortunate lambing, and perhaps it is these issues which require more attention. Fox attacks on farms are, of course, a delicate issue and are not to be overlooked. Fox hunting in terms of population management may be the best (and most humane) solution, but in those cases should only be implemented in areas where fox populations are truly out of control. As the main reason for fox hunting is for the entertainment of participants, however, if the ban was to be lifted there is unlikely to be any restrictions on the areas allowing fox hunting. 

So what do you think? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and everyone has the opportunity to make their voice heard. There are just a few days left before the ban gets called into question, petitions can be found online for those who are passionate about the fox hunting debate. For those interested in learning more about the pros and cons of fox hunting, follow any of the links below. 

  1. file:///C:/Users/PC/Documents/Vet%20School/AVS/Website%20articles/animal%20welfare/Veterinary%20Association%20for%20Wildlife%20Management%20%20A%20Veterinary%20Opinion%20on%20Hunting%20with%20Hounds.html