Response to the Minister for Rural Affairs on Hunting with dogs

A response to the Minister for Rural Affairs on Hunting with dogs - issues of cruelty, utility and process by L.H.Thomas and W.R.Allen.

Introduction

Paragraph 3 - The Minister in his letter and guidance notes dated 31 May 2002, states that he is looking for information and evidence on the subject of hunting with dogs. This we supply below, formatted according to the paragraphs defined in the guidance notes and also in more detail in the enclosed booklet, A Veterinary Opinion on Hunting with Hounds. The information and evidence we provide is essentially new since although it was submitted originally to the Burns Inquiry and was published on the Inquiry’s web site, it has been substantially updated since the Inquiry and much of it is evidence or professional opinion that has not previously been in the public domain. Although the Minister will be aware from my letter of 12 March this year that an earlier version has been on our web site since September 2001 at:

www.vets-wildlifemanagement.org.uk

The Minister states that the report of the Committee of Inquiry chaired by Lord Burns will act as the basis or starting point for his consultation exercise and he will note from the list of references in our booklet that we have drawn heavily on the web site of the Inquiry to update our Veterinary Opinion. However we are less sanguine about some of the statements in the report of the Committee, which we find to be unsubstantiated by evidence submitted to the Inquiry, particularly in the section on the welfare of the four quarry species:

  1. The now famously ambiguous phrase " seriously compromises the welfare -.", which is quoted several times in the Minister’s notes is one such statement. It is a conclusion that seems to ignore our Veterinary Opinion and one which had to be qualified some months later by a Committee member, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior in his speech to the House of Lords on 12 March 2001:
  2. "At no point did the Committee conclude, or even attempt to conclude, an assessment of cruelty. Yet many bodies have erroneously – I repeat the word erroneously – quoted the Burns report, stating that it clearly demonstrated that the practice of hunting wild animals with dogs caused cruelty. The report did not state that".

    And he went on to further qualify the phrase above by saying that:

    "A compromise of animal welfare was found only in the terminal stages of the hunt"

    The Minister appears, in his notes, to have overlooked these important qualifications.

  3. The report implies (paragraph 6.9) that animal welfare science can make a major and valuable contribution to the debate. This is misleading. Welfare science is not an objective science. It cannot measure suffering or cruelty and attempts to correlate physiological parameters, for example, in hunted deer with welfare have been generally recognised as not being meaningful not least by the review article (contract 7) to the Inquiry submitted by Professors Bateson and Harris. Thus, where the report states that most scientists agree that deer are likely to suffer in the final stages of a hunt, this is of necessity an opinion and not one based on scientific evidence. And furthermore is something of a sweeping opinion since we represent some 400 veterinary scientists who do not agree with it. It is also an opinion that hinges on the meaning of the word suffering. To those opposed to hunting the word means unbearable pain and distress but to most veterinarians and to those familiar with exercise physiology, it means no more than the stress of strenuous exercise, of the kind sustained by the extended racehorse or human athlete. We believe therefore that the use of the word "suffering" in the current debate is not helpful.
  4. The report makes the assumption (paragraph 6.39) that it is intrinsically undesirable for wild animals to be chased. Again, there is no evidence for this statement.

Cruelty

Paragraph 7 - The question is posed in the Minister’s paper:

"How do you think particular activities involving hunting with hounds should be tested for whether they cause or do not cause unnecessary suffering? Who should take the decision and how?"

It follows from 2) above that if science cannot provide the definitive answers on cruelty and suffering they can only come from professional opinion. And our group (Vets for Hunting), which now numbers some 400 members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and whom we represent, must be considered second to none in professional expertise in the current debate.

The majority of the group are general practitioners spread across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, most of whom have had years of clinical experience with many species of domestic and wild animals. By no means all are hunting vets but many do have first hand knowledge of hunting. Some are academics with a wealth of research experience, five of whom are veterinary professors and six are fellows of the Royal College of Pathologists. An authority, we repeat that far outweighs any mustered on the other side of the argument. And one, which cannot be dismissed as a minority vested interest since it has been endorsed by 63% of rural veterinary surgeons, as identified in a NOP survey of 1,000 members of the Royal College in August 2001.

Utility

Paragraphs 8, 9 - in terms of wild life management, utility, unlike welfare, is amenable to proper scientific investigation and here we would defer to the expertise of such bodies as The Game Conservancy. However, there is one important area of utility or wildlife management that overlaps with welfare and this is the treatment of the wounded or diseased animal and here as veterinary surgeons we would claim the professional expertise (see below).

Foxhunting

Paragraph 10 - considers the control of fox numbers only from the point of view of the benefit to man and his livestock. Clearly it should also include the welfare of the fox. Thus, we propose the following rationale for fox control:

  1. The fox is virtually without natural predators in Britain, other than man. The natural death of such a wild animal will occur by starvation, disease or injury, none of which can be considered humane.
  2. If numbers of foxes are not controlled there will be progressive and increasing predation on vulnerable farm animals and wildlife.
  3. Overpopulation has a detrimental effect on the health and vigour of any animal species, particularly in respect of disease. This may already be seen with the steeply rising numbers of urban foxes, many of which now suffer from endemic mange. Epidemics of mange are also seen in rural foxes.
  4. Mange is one of several diseases that are transmissible from foxes to man and domestic pets. Rabies is another, although the risk is minimal. More important are several parasitic diseases that could become more common with the travel of domestic pets between the UK and continental Europe. For example, infection with the gut tapeworm, Echinoccus multilocularis, which is common in European foxes and which can be fatal in man.

Man has an obligation to address this situation in the most humane and environmentally friendly way. Laissez faire will not do!

Paragraph 10 - We suggest that c) as given in the Minister’s paper - culling for sport or pleasure, is a distortion of the reasons for which people ride to hounds. But more importantly the equestrian or sporting element of hunting is peripheral to the central issue of "is it cruel?" And should not be a factor in deciding on the merits or demerits of hunting as a method of fox control, except perhaps in so much as it happens to be what pays for this particular method of control.

Paragraph 11 - We offer no data on this question but would look to bodies such as the National Farmers Union or the Game Conservancy for information.

Paragraph 12 - We have already commented above on the unsatisfactory nature of the phrase "seriously compromises the welfare". It is an opinion not founded on any substantial evidence submitted to the Inquiry and one that is demonstrably ambiguous.

In our opinion hunting is the natural and most humane method of controlling foxes for a number of reasons:

  1. Wild animals are used to hunting or being hunted. It is part of their daily life.
  2. The wild animal remains in its natural environment at all times.
  3. Quarry that evade hounds rapidly return to normal behaviour.
  4. For the major part of any hunt the quarry is under no particular stress.
  5. Stress in the final short stage is equivalent to no more than strenuous exercise.
  6. Neither wild nor domestic animals appear to have any premonition of death.
  7. The kill, brought about by cervical dislocation or by massive crushing of the thorax, is almost instantaneous and above all certain.
  8. Stress analgesia induced by opioids released in the central nervous system will mitigate or eliminate any pain.
  9. Hunting produces no wounded or damaged survivors.

In contrast, all other methods of control, with the exception of pursuit by lurchers and digging out, are intrinsically unsafe. In particular, we believe it to be naïve and irresponsible of the Committee to suggest that shooting is potentially the safest and most humane method of control. The best case scenario described in their report whereby a single shot produces an instant kill, is not a reliable reality. Even experienced marksmen make mistakes, there will always be beginners and inexperienced individuals and there will always be those that are downright irresponsible and reckless. The only way that shooting can be as certain, swift and painless as hunting is when a point blank or close range shot is applied directly to the cranium, as in the slaughter house or when a deer is brought to bay after being hunted (see below).

A fuller discussion of the merits and demerits of the different methods of fox control may be found in A Veterinary Opinion on Hunting with Hounds (enclosed).

Paragraph 13 - The utility case for fox control has already been made above. The laissez faire approach that must be rejected is the idea that foxes control their own numbers.

Natural biological control of fox numbers and the other quarry species will not occur until shortage of food, as a result of overpopulation and disease are so extreme as to suppress reproductive activity. Clearly this does not represent a healthy and vigorous wildlife species. Furthermore the population level of foxes, at which this so called control might occur, would induce levels of predation totally unacceptable to farmers and would seriously disturb the overall balance of other wildlife.

Shooting although intrinsically unsafe nevertheless presently accounts for the majority of foxes killed annually and will probably always be needed in conjunction with hunting to control fox numbers. However hunting is not necessarily less efficient than other methods of culling foxes. Rather, it is not exploited to its full potential.

Paragraph 14 - We are not certain we understand the question raised here but if it is being suggested that flushing foxes from cover to waiting shotguns is more humane than hunting with hounds this has to be rejected. It was estimated in one submission to the Inquiry that as many as 20% of foxes shot in this way are not killed outright. Furthermore according to officials of three gun packs in Wales at least 20% of foxes are caught by hounds and the average time of the pursuit phase is around 30 minutes with a maximum of around an hour. This is no different from that given by the MFHA for conventional hunting. It would seem therefore that flushing to guns may involve as much hunting as hunting and there be no grounds therefore for a distinction between the two in terms of the pursuit and kill by hounds.

Paragraph 15 - it follows from what has been said above that hunting will always be the most humane method of controlling the rural fox population, regardless of locality or region.

Deer hunting

Paragraph 17 - We have already cast doubt on the value of the emotive term "suffering" and have stated above that we represent some 400 veterinary scientists who do not accept that deer experience unbearable suffering in the final stages of a hunt. Rather we identify with the conclusion on page 10 of Contract 7, that "Many of the physiological characteristics of deer at the end of a hunt resemble those of a human or horse involved in a prolonged bout of continuous or intermittent intense activity". We do not regard any of these changes as necessarily detrimental to the well being of the animal. All the changes observed are the normal physiological expression of arousal and exercise. All are reversible and none are of clinical significance to the hunted deer.

Furthermore there is no scientific evidence and this includes clinical observation, that deer or any of the quarry species that escape hounds suffer irreversible physiological or pathological damage as a result of being chased, any more than does the extended human athlete or racehorse. This fact is borne out by observation of carted deer after a day’s hunting. These animals are caught up unharmed and returned to their home park where they rapidly return to normal activity.

Paragraphs 16 & 18 - the need to cull deer is not dissimilar to that for foxes with respect to overpopulation and disease. Whereas the fox is a serious predator of young livestock and ground nesting birds the deer is a destroyer of crops and forestry.

Paragraphs 17 & 19 - If the conclusion of the Committee may be said to be naïve and irresponsible on the subject of shooting of foxes, it is more so on the shooting of a large and elusive mammal such as the red deer for which the initial shot, aimed at the neck or thorax is not expected or even designed to achieve an instant kill.

The reality of shooting deer is succinctly put by an experienced stalker, Major K.C.G. Morrison in a paper to the British Deer Society in February 1979; "It should not be supposed by any one who has no experience of stalking that any animal fairly struck by a bullet drops dead on the spot. It would be gratifying if this were the case but many factors combine to make this the exception rather than the rule". A more recent paper (1992) by another experienced stalker and a veterinary surgeon, Mr.Peter Green MRCVS, largely endorses Major Morrison’s conclusion and describes, in some detail, why it is almost impossible to achieve an instant kill with a single shot even, by the most experienced marksman.

The vulnerability of shooting as a humane method of culling deer is well illustrated by a multiple wounding incident recorded in the West Country in February 2001 (appendix 1). A young Belgian stalker, who had passed a rigorous test and was in possession of a stalking licence from the Belgian State Hunting Authority, wounded no fewer than four Red deer by inappropriate shots directed at their rear ends. These wretched animals had to suffer pain and shock in excess of 2 hours before they were put out of their misery by a serendipitous third party. One need hardly add that no amount of training or regulation can guarantee against this sort of flagrant abuse of animal welfare.

Unfortunately stalking and shooting will always be necessary to control deer numbers. But no one should be under the illusion that stalking, compared with hunting, which involves a close range shot to the head and instant death, is the humane option.

A fuller discussion of hunting versus shooting as a method of deer control can be found in A Veterinary Opinion on Hunting with Hounds (enclosed)

Hare hunting

Paragraphs 21 & 22 - we offer no expertise on hare hunting in the context of conservation but would argue that it is highly probable that both the beagling and the coursing fraternities contribute significantly to the health and conservation of the species.

The need to control hare numbers with respect to overpopulation and disease and for pest control would appear to be similar to that for deer. But the cyclical nature of hare populations, which are dependent to a much greater extent on weather and food availability, complicate the assessment.

Paragraphs 23, 24 & 25 - We repeat our criticism of the demonstrably ambiguous statement "seriously compromises the welfare" And our reasons listed above that recognise hunting as the natural and most humane method of control apply as much to the hare as to the fox and deer.

We are pleased to endorse the Committee’s reservation about the inhumanity of shooting hares. In A Veterinary Opinion on Hunting with Hounds we quote a veterinary colleague with considerable personal experience of shooting, Dr.D.R.Wise, who estimated that some 25-30% of hares are seriously wounded by shotguns and are thereby easily retrieved. However as many as 10% escape wounded and are not retrievable, even by well trained dogs. Frequently these will have been hit by pellets across the back and hindquarters and many will have sustained fractures of the hind limbs. And it should be kept in mind that hare hunts are often scheduled to occur shortly after hare shoots over the same ground for the express purpose of finding and culling wounded animals. There can be no substitute for hunting to perform this vital and humane function.

Furthermore we hold grave doubts that the use of a shotgun to kill a mammal the size of a hare or a fox can be regarded as humane. Nevertheless it is difficult to imagine how, if necessary, hare numbers can be reduced substantially without shooting and it is therefore all the more important to retain packs of scenting hounds to retrieve wounded animals.

Hare coursing

Paragraph 26 - Our arguments listed above for regarding hunting as natural and humane apply qually to hare coursing as to hare hunting.

Paragraphs 27, 28 & 29 - Hare coursing is clearly for recreational purposes only. It therefore falls into the same category as shooting or fishing, which are likewise recreational sports at the expense of the quarry species. In defence of coursing it must be observed that the number of hares killed are actually very few (8-10 in a day), compared with the hundreds of animals killed in a single hare shoot. Furthermore with coursing death is almost instantaneous and above all certain. Coursing leaves no wounded survivors.

Mink hunting

Paragraph 31 - the utility case for controlling numbers of mink is clearly not in dispute. It is an exotic species introduced into the British countryside by escape from commercial mink farms and does not therefore attract the same public tolerance shown to the three indigenous quarry species. Eradication, albeit somewhat improbable, rather than control, must therefore be the objective for this particularly vicious predator of poultry, fish, wildlife and even lambs.

Paragraph 32 - trapping and hunting are the only realistic methods of controlling mink and in some areas where it is not possible to set traps only hunting can be used. Thus a compelling utility case for the hunting of mink clearly exists.

Paragraph 33 - the welfare advantages for the hunting of mink, listed above for fox hunting, will be no different than for the three other quarry species.

Cage trapping may appear on the face of it, a humane method of catching and culling small to medium sized mammals. But in considering the humane aspects of wildlife management, it is important to have in mind that wild animals are at their most distressed when physically restricted in an environment that is strange to them and which they have not encountered in their evolutionary history. Thus, whereas a domestic animal may accept the confinement of a cage, for a wild animal it can be a cause of acute distress even physiological shock, particularly when approached by man. Cage trapping therefore represents protracted and distressing incarceration for a wild animal with the added serious risk of self-mutilation or other physical injury when trying to escape. Cage traps of necessity require inspection at least every 24 hours. This is clearly open to error and abuse.

Hunting with hounds therefore remains, as for the three other quarry species, the most humane method of controlling mink.

Ratting

Paragraph 38 - the implication in the Minister’s guidance notes that the use of rodenticides for controlling rats is more humane than a quick kill by a dog is both astonishing and shocking. It indicates double standards in welfare for different species of sentient mammals, which is completely unacceptable.

Falconry and Rabbiting

Paragraphs 39 & 40 - In terms of animal welfare there can be no difference between dogs in pursuit of rabbits and hounds in pursuit of foxes, hares or deer. As stated previously wild animals are used to hunting or being hunted. What might be a devastating experience for a domestic animal or man is part of the pattern of daily life for the wild animal. And quarry that evade hounds rapidly return to normal behaviour. Thus, as with the hunting of fox, deer, hare and mink, there can be no welfare objection to the hunting of rabbits with dogs.

The future of hunting

Paragraph 42 - It should be evident from the responses above that there are no grounds in terms of animal welfare to justify the banning of hunting in any of its forms. It is demonstrably the most humane method for controlling numbers of all four quarry species and is the natural, balanced method of biological control proven to work over centuries. There are no alternative methods of control that do not cause or have a high risk of causing great suffering, especially the shooting of deer.

The long term consequences of a profound interference such as a ban on hunting with hounds on the delicately balanced ecology of our wild life are difficult to predict but a substantial decline in numbers of deer, fox and hare seems likely and a serious deterioration in the welfare of the same three species, largely through increased shooting, inevitable.

Finally, the vital contribution made by hunting to both the welfare and general health of all four quarry species whereby the weak, the diseased and the injured within the population are detected and dispatched cannot be over emphasised. No other method of culling performs this function and, were hunting to be banned, the welfare implications for all hunted species would be profound. An uncertain but unacceptably large number of animals would be condemned to a lingering death through disease, injury (shooting and road accident), malnutrition or illegal poisoning. For this reason alone the retention of packs of scenting hounds and their ability to hunt throughout Britain is crucial. Nor should it be supposed that a body such as the RSPCA could take on this function. We are talking here of a two to three times weekly patrol of the British countryside during autumn and winter by some 22,000 hounds specifically trained to scent out the quarry species.

Other issues

Paragraph 43 - the Minister declares that he has no intention of interfering with drag hunting, which is simply an equestrian sport. A very similar activity, the hunting of carted deer is practised in Northern Ireland and used to be practised in England. In this activity a park-raised deer is used as the quarry in much the same way as a human runner is used in drag hunting and at the end of the day is caught up and returned unharmed to the home park from whence it came. Logically if this activity were again to be practised in England and Wales it would be exempted on the same grounds as for drag hunting since, as stated above, it is now generally accepted that there are no lasting adverse effects of pursuit per se on deer.

L.H.T./W.R.A.

8.7.02

 

Appendix 1 - Summary of a multiple Red deer wounding incident at Bowbier Hill, near Bampton, Devon on 2nd February 2001

Location: Farm owned by Mr.T.A.H.Yandle of Riphay Barton, Dulverton, Somerset.

Persons involved: Initially Mr.Yandle and a Belgian stalker Mr.Baeten, aged about 25 years. Later witnesses included: Mr.T.E.H.Yandle (son of TAHY), Ms.Selinde Moolenburgh (Dutch visitor to the Yandles), two or more policemen summoned by TAHY, two further unnamed Belgians, friends of Mr.Baeten, Mr.Meyrick Griffith- Jones, organiser of the shooting party and Mr.M.C.Clark (friend of TAHY)

Police reference: Incident no.1066, 1800h, Tiverton Police station, PC Holwell.

The incident: At approximately 1630h on 2nd February 2001 Mr.Yandle was feeding stock on Bowbier Hill Farm and noticed a Red deer stag on the skyline in obvious difficulty. As he drove over to investigate a shot rang out and the stag fell down. A man (Mr.Baeten) emerged from the bushes carrying a high velocity rifle and was apprehended by Mr.Yandle. Three further deer were sitting up wounded within 100 yards of the stag; two, a mature hind and a calf got up and moved away when approached, the third, another calf, remained down. Mr.Yandle drove himself and the stalker to his farmhouse from where he summoned the police. He then returned to Bowbier Hill Lane with his son and Ms.Moolenburgh, met with the police and the other persons listed above. He then left the group taking his son, Mr.Clark and Ms. Moolenburgh back to the scene of the shooting to dispatch the wounded animals.

The stag and the hind had died and the two calves, still alive, were immediately dispatched with a humane killer at approximately 1830h, some 2 hours after they were first shot. A search of the farm in the dark revealed a further dead male calf some 300 yards away. All five carcasses were eviscerated, decapitated and removed to Riphay Farm. The carcasses were subsequently examined by Mr. Paul MacFarlane MRCVS, who has filed a separate report dated 6 February 2001.

Summary of post mortem findings:

Stag - two gun shot wounds (GSW): one to left lumbar region directed cranially (first non fatal shot); second, entered at 8th left intercostal space and exited 10th right i/c space (second fatal shot).

Hind - one GSW to caudal extremity of thorax not involving major blood vessels.

Male calf 1 - GSW to upper RH leg.

Male calf 2 - GSW to mid thorax, entry 4th left i/c space, exit 5th right i/c space (presumably a fatal shot).

Female calf - GSW to left flank.

With the exception of the GSW to the male calf 2, Mr. MacFarlane was of the opinion that none of the first shots to the other four deer could have been expected to be fatal. These findings are in agreement with Mr.Yandle’s observations that four of the deer appeared to have been wounded by shots aimed at the presenting rear end of the deer, which the stalker must have known could only wound.

Footnote: This summary is based on a detailed written account of the above incident by Mr.Yandle, dated 4 February 2001. No further police action followed the trespass on Mr.Yandle’s farm and Mr Yandle is not aware of any action having been taken by the British Deer Society following his report to them. Mr.Yandle has two letters of apology from Mr.Griffith-Jones dated 5 February and 14 March. It may also be noted that the stalker, Mr.Baeten was in possession of a stalking licence from the Belgian State Hunting Authority, which can only be obtained after passing a rigorous test.

Dr.L.H.Thomas, 8th June 2002