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Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Is fox hunting cruel?
fox hunt
"Effective and humane" say hunters
The crux of the whole fox hunting debate, for many people, is the issue of cruelty.

Is being chased for several hours to be killed by a pack of dogs cruel?

No, say hunt supporters, citing the top dog of the pack's natural instinct to administer a "quick nip" to the back of the fox's head, which they allege kills it outright.

They also point to research by Dr David McDonald at Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit which suggests that the average duration of a hunt is 17 minutes.

The fox does not anticipate death, they say, so is not unduly traumatised by the pursuit.

And the alternatives - shooting, gassing, snaring or poisoning - would all inflict much more pain and suffering on the foxes. Already, 10 times as many foxes are shot each year than are hunted to death, they say. That figure would only increase if hunting was banned.

Yes it is cruel, and it's unnecessary, say animal welfare groups, campaigners and acitivists.

They point to the fact that the fox has no natural predators except man, and is therefore not accustomed to being chased.

They say that if, and only if, there is a specific problem with a fox in one area, then shooting by a trained marksman is the only humane way to deal with the problem.

And they do not accept the country sport lobby's stance that foxes are pests, and need to be destroyed somehow.

The Countryside Alliance - the group representing many areas of countryside interests, including hunting - says that in order to answer the question, one must first define cruelty.

fox biting chicken
Foxes need to be controlled say country sportsmen and women
They refer to The Scott Henderson inquiry under the 1949 Labour government.

The Henderson Committee considered cruelty to be "an act causing unnecessary suffering", and went on to elaborate, "So far as general cruelty is concerned, we are satisfied that there is less cruelty in fox hunting than in most other methods of control."

The group's Website reads: "To this day, the Scott Henderson inquiry remains the most thorough and impartial investigation of hunting issues.

"And its report is still as refreshingly relevant as it was when it was written over 40 years ago. Generations may come and go, but the laws of nature and the countryside remain unchanged."

They say that because a foxhound weighs between 70-80lbs, roughly four or five times the fox's mass, and has a powerful jaw, a single bite is all that's required to kill the fox.

The website continues: "There is no doubt that the fox population has to be controlled, and hunting with hounds is not only effective, but it is also the method which involves the least cruelty."

"A popular myth is that the fox is killed by being torn apart by a pack of hounds when it is still alive. This is not true."

They also say that foxhunting is crucial to conservation of the species. Figures on the Foxman website show that during the Second World War, when fox hunting ceased, the fox population went into decline, because farmers took to shooting them all.

Hunting, they say, not only kills one fox, but disperses others.

The research of two British zoologists at Nottingham University, Chris Barnard and Jane Hurst, is also pointed to by hunt supporters.

terrierman finds fox
"Cruel and unnecessary" say animal welfare groups
Their research lead them to believe that stress and fear in animals did not necessarily lead to suffering.

However, since the publication of their work in 1996, Professor Bateson's study for the National Trust indicated that average length of a stag hunt imposed physical stress to the extent that the animal suffered unduly. In other words, that stag hunting was cruel.

Literature published by the Hunt Saboteurs Association on their Website reads: "The quick, clean death of the fox, so joyfully spread by the hunting fraternity is, in the majority of cases a lie.

"They will say that a fox is always killed by hounds with a quick nip on the back of the neck, thus severing the spinal chord. It may finally die this way, but it is likely that it will suffer multiple agonising injuries before the final 'nip' is given.

fox and dandelion
"Fox is not a pest" says Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals
"Many foxes have been recovered with their innards torn out, but no sign of that fatal nip."

The RSPCA's Alex Ross, for the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, added: "We do not believe that foxes are a national pest or a national problem.

"We believe fox hunting is cruel and unnecessary. If there is a problem with a fox, then a skilled marksman is the only answer. But killing wild animals for pleasure should not be acceptable in this day and age."

Country sportsmen and women are at pains to point out, however, that they make no secret of enjoying the hunt.

Huntsman Jeremy Barnfield said: "It is a sport, and it is one that is very much enjoyed - but it's enjoyed for the chase rather than the kill.

"We are doing the farmer a service, we are getting rid of the fox that would kill his lambs or chickens - and we get a good day's riding out of it."

Professor Patrick Bateman
What the research has found
Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

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