How Cruel Are these sports?

Anybody who has visited Britain in the past year or so cannot have failed to hear about the argument surrounding bloodsports. These are 'sports' which involve hunting and killing wild animals. They are still legal in Britain, but many people want them to be banned, especially bloodsports which involve hunting with packs of dogs, or 'hounds' as hunting dogs are called"

No doubt many readers are familiar with the image of men in red coats galloping on horseback after a pack of hounds chasing a fox. Foxhunting is the most common, but hounds are also used to hunt stags and hares. Those who oppose bloodsports see them as a cruel and old-fashioned tradition that should be outlawed. Those in favour view bloodsports as an important part of rural life that provides jobs, helps the economy and protects the environment.

Why do they do it?

Supporters of hunting claim that it is necessary to cull wild animals because if there are too many of them they will destroy too many farm animals and crops. Foxes kill lambs and poultry, stags and hares destroy crops. Farmers usually support hunting, and if it were banned they would probably look for other ways to kill these animals. The alternatives to hunting with hounds are shooting and trapping. Organizations that oppose hunting say these methods are kinder, but shooting to kill is very difficult, and sometimes animals are wounded, taking weeks or even months to die. Trapping can also wound an animal, or frighten it unnecessarily, as, of course can hunting with hounds.

Groups which oppose bloodsports such as the League Against Cruel Sports and the Hunt Saboteurs Association stress this point, and say that hunting with hounds is far worse than 'humane' trapping. In fact they claim that foxes are not actually a problem to farmers at all, but rather help them by getting rid of pests such as rabbits and rats. They add that allowing hunting to take place during a time when female hares and foxes are pregnant is barbaric. According to these organizations, bloodsports only continue because those who take part in them enjoy watching wild animals being killed.

An ugly death

The anti-hunting organizations often publish horrifying pictures of hunting dogs ripping apart a fox or hare to demonstrate the cruelty of bloodsports. But, according to hunt supporters, hunting with dogs is the most effective way of killing quickly and cleanly. Who is telling the truth? Hunt supporters argue that a fox or hare is killed in seconds by a quick bite from a hound in the back of the neck. A stag will be surrounded by the dogs, enabling the huntsman to shoot it at close range with a pistol. The horrifying images we see, they say, have been taken after the hunted animal is dead, when the huntsmen sometimes allow the hounds to eat the animal. Those against hunting do not believe this.

Though many who oppose hunting say chasing one fox with a pack of seventy hounds is unfair, hunt supporters say that this method is in fact the fairest way because it reflects natural selection. The dogs are more likely to catch a fox that is old or sick, than a young and healthy one. Hunting with hounds, say the supporters, gives wild animals a chance to escape; guns and traps do not.

Who knows best?

Hunt supporters claim that most people who oppose hunting do not know enough about it. And indeed some people who used to protest against hunting have changed their minds after learning more. One indirect argument in its favour is that hunters are interested in protecting wild animals and the environment, because without them they could no longer practise the sport they enjoy. Many areas of the British countryside are protected specifically for bloodsports. If they were banned, there would be no reason - and no money - to continue protecting them. Hunt supporters estimate bloodsports provide jobs for 16,000 people in the countryside. They would be unemployed if a ban came into force. Few people who oppose hunting ask what would happen to Britain's 20,000 hounds if hunting were banned. The answer is, they would have to be put down because dogs bred and trained to hunt cannot be re-trained to become domestic pets.

The opposition disagrees with these points, however. They say that hunting could continue, but without the killing. This alternative is called 'draghunting', where a pack of dogs follows a scent put down by man. Hunt supporters claim that this would not work, as farmers would not want the hunt going over their land unless it was performing a useful service. Of course a draghunt could pay the farmer, but most hunting organizations do not have much money. So after a ban only the rich ones would survive and jobs and dogs would be lost anyway. Either way, according to the supporters, farmers would still want wild animals culled and would start shooting them or using other methods. In this case, they say, many more animals would die much more horrible deaths.

Town versus country

There is not enough space here to go into this complex argument further. But both sides seem to have valid reasons for or against hunting, though hunt supporters claim that those who oppose it know very little about the countryside. They say the opposition's sentimental attitude towards animals reflects the increasing urbanization of British people, who often do not understand the ways of nature.

Country people are beginning to see the bloodsport issue as an attack on their way of life and a new organization has emerged to promote their views.

Believing that urban populations should not dictate what happens in the country, the Countryside Alliance has organized protest marches in various cities across Britain. These demonstrations have attracted thousands of country people and a good deal of media interest. No other protests have been so peaceful - and never before have city streets actually been cleaner after a protest march! This is in stark contrast to the often-violent demonstrations of the hunt saboteurs, who have even been known to attack hunters' horses. Country people are proving themselves to be a force for good and believe a government that supports law and order should be on their side. Furthermore, if the government takes the side of the opposition and bans hunting with hounds, then many think shooting and fishing will be the next to go. Then how long will it be until we are all forced to become vegetarians?