If death by hunting with hounds really were humane, the few remaining veterinarians who support hunting could offer that as a euthanasia option for the humane destruction of their clients' pets, which of course they do not...
Theresa May recently reconfirmed her support for fox hunting1 and previously expounded her arguments in a 2015 letter2, demonstrating a profound misunderstanding of the welfare and disease risks involved. She states that "hunting with hounds results in almost instantaneous death", without any supporting evidence, although the Burns report3 concluded that hunting with hounds has "serious welfare implications" for quarry animals such as foxes, deer, hares and mink. Pathological examinations of wildlife killed illegally by hunts, show injuries consistent with prolonged suffering4.
She cites a "need for wildlife management to protect vulnerable animals"2, views which are out of step with recent conservation science proving the lack of efficacy of such attempts at predator control56 and demonstrating that hounds are not a suitable method for dealing with diseased wild animals. Since the introduction of the Hunting Act, fox populations across the UK have remained roughly stable7. While foxes do take some livestock, they do not have a significant impact on farming incomes8, obviating the need for human interference.
She cites support from "over 500 Members of the RCVS" although no such list has been published. Indeed, if death by hunting with hounds really were humane, the few remaining veterinarians who support hunting could offer that as a euthanasia option for the humane destruction of their clients' pets, which of course they do not.
The running of hounds over extensive areas of farmland has biosecurity implications for the control of diseases, particularly that of bovine TB9, recently discovered in the Kimblewick Hunt's hounds10, with potential implications for the health of domestic animals and people over six home counties 11.
Hunting with hounds was stopped during the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak of 2001. A reinstatement of the biohazard presented by hunting with hounds would be totally inappropriate given the government's failed badger culling and TB policies, which have resulted in epidemic spread of bovine TB in cattle to new areas of the country previously unaffected by the disease12. In April there was a new cattle herd TB breakdown near Theresa May's own Maidenhead constituency, which also falls within the Kimblewick hunting range, at Henley-on-Thames12.
The Government's promised Disease Risk Assessment of the Kimblewick hound outbreak, and results from disease investigations both locally and nationally in hounds, need to be made public before the General Election. Theresa May has made hunting with hounds an election issue, but her arguments are evidence light, prejudice heavy, and take no account of the disease risks. Her support is based on ignorance of the scientific facts and the objective cruelty involved. Such a lack of empathy casts grave doubt on the suitability of Mrs May to negotiate animal welfare and protection policies under Brexit.
We urge voters to ask Theresa May to explain the reasons she is supporting such a regressive and high-risk policy as a return to hunting with hounds.
Dr Iain McGill BSc (Hons) BVetMed MRCVS. Director, Prion Interest Group, Director VATC, Lead author VVNABC
Dr Mark Jones BVSc MSc (Stir) MSc (UL) MRCVS
Professor Andrew Knight MANZCVS DipECAWBM (AWSEL) DACAW PhD MRCVS SFHEA. Director, Centre for Animal Welfare, University of Winchester, European & RCVS Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law; American Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare
Dr Andre Menache BSc (Hons) BVSc DipECAWBM (AWSEL) MRCVS. European & RCVS Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law
2. Letter by Theresa May to a constituent, explaining her views on hunting with hounds. (2015) Vets & Vet Nurses Against The Badger Cull
5. Treves, A., Krofel M. & McManus, J. (2016) Predator Control should not be a shot in the dark. Frontiers in Ecology and The Environment 14, 7, 380-388.
6. Rushton, S.P., Shirley, M.D.F., Macdonald, D.W. & Reynolds, J.C. (2006). Effects of culling fox
populations at the landscape scale: A spatially explicit population modelling approach. The
Journal of Wildlife Management, 70: 1102-1110.
8. McDonald, R., Baker, P. & Harris, S. (1997). Is the fox a pest? Electra Publishing, Cheddar,
9. Jahns, J. J. Callanan, M. C. McElroy, D. J. Sammin, H. F. Bassett (2011) Post-mortem Findings in Irish Culled Hounds. J. Comp. Path, Vol. 145, 59-67.
11. McGill, I, Abraham M, Boscolo S, Eastwood B., et al (2017 in press) Veterinary professionals oppose any return to hunting mammals with hounds (The Veterinary Times, June 5th 2017)
This letter, released today, coincides with the publications of an article by this author and some 20 of his colleagues in the Veterinary Times (see ref. 11 above) and was offered exclusively to the Ecologist for online publication today