Official cover-up - are hunting hounds the 'cryptic carrier' for bovine TB?

The Kimblewick hunt on its Boxing Day meet, 2016. Photo: Roger Marks via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
The Kimblewick hunt on its Boxing Day meet, 2016. Photo: Roger Marks via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Was the discovery of bovine TB in a pack of foxhounds in southern England covered up? Jordi Casamitjana asks if hunts bear much of the blame for the bTB epidemic, while Defra may have deliberately suppressed the evidence. The 25 bTB-infected hounds of the Kimblewick Hunt may just be the tip of an iceberg of diseased dogs spreading TB across the UK - while badgers take the blame.
Could the fact that Lord Gardiner of Kimble, the current Defra Parliamentary Under-Secretary, is also the former deputy chief executive of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance and an honorary member of the Kimblewick hunt, explain this possible cover up?

The plot thickens, as they say.

We all know the old story of blaming the innocent badger for the bovine TB epidemic in cattle.

We all know that this story ends badly for the badgers who, despite science repeatedly showing that they are not responsible for the epidemic, have been culled in England in their thousands.

And we all know it's happening under a ludicrous, ill-thought out policy that this Government is blindly pushing through, despite the opposition of most people, most experts and most politicians.

bTB is a bacterial infectious disease of cattle that can infect other species, such as deer, goats, pigs, llamas, and yes, also badgers. But most people don't know that cats and dogs can also get infected.

In fact, in 2011 a study was conducted in Ireland on the diseases of hunting hounds, and bTB was found in them. The study did not look into how the hounds got the disease as it only looked at post mortems, but they could have got it by either being fed infected cows or by being in fields where infected cattle had recently been.

Nobody paid that much attention to that Irish case until now, because an outbreak of bTB has been discovered in a hunt in the middle of the bTB epidemic zone in England.

The news Defra didn't want you to read ...

The Kimblewick Hunt covers a wide area which includes parts of Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire. In bTB epidemic terms, the hunt territory is in the middle of what is called the 'edge area', between the 'high-risk' and the 'low-risk' areas. But if you check Defra's online map that plots where the current outbreaks are, you can see several occurring within the hunt's territory.

Several sources suggest that between 25 and 40 hounds from this pack have already been put down, and the hunt stopped going out several months ago.

But this is the interesting part of the story. Do you know how the press found out about it? Because they contacted the hunt and Defra and asked them. And why did they ask them? Because the League Against Cruel Sports told them to do so when a tip off from the anti-hunt organisation Hounds Off was received, after having discovered the whole thing by pure accident.

A small Hounds Off team recently monitored two meets of the Kimblewick Hunt, and in one of them they found something strange. The Kimblewick Hunt jacket is mustard coloured but the Huntsman on this day was wearing green. That made them ask questions, and eventually they learnt that other hunts had been using the Kimblewick hunt territory because the hounds were not allowed to go out (because of the disease).

This had been happening for months and there was no information out there warning anyone about this outbreak. Had the Hounds Off team not been monitoring the hunt, it is quite possible that nobody would have ever found out as the hunting season is about to finish.

Cease all hunting activity until we have the answers?

This is quite serious. Although hunting with hounds was banned by the Hunting Act 2004, hunts continue to go out, usually claiming to be ‘trail hunting' (not to be confused with drag hunting) or hunting under one of the exemptions of the Act, although many believe, including me, these are false claims and most are hunting illegally.

I estimate that there are more than 3,000 hunting hounds in the bTB epidemic zone alone, which may be out in the countryside an average of two days a week during the six-month hunting season. This means many dogs moving from field to field. Dogs that can get infected, in fields where infected cattle may have been, possibly eating some of them from time to time.

Are there not questions to be asked? Should all hunting activity cease until we have the right answers?

There are indeed many questions that are yet to be answered. As hounds are regularly fed fallen stock, if this is the actual source of transmission it is possible that this is not an isolated case and there have been many that have either not been reported or covered up.

If there is no confirmation of how the hunts got infected, why did Defra not put out an order to stop potentially infected hounds running free in the countryside before they could find out? If so many hounds got infected, did they all get it from the same source (i.e. eating an infected carcass) or did they infect each other by sharing the same quarters?

The tip of a hidden bTB 'iceberg'

If the hounds infected each other, could they have infected other packs when some of the hounds were taken to any of the hound shows that occur all over the country?

If the hounds got the disease from being in a field where infected cattle had been recently, would other packs of other types of hunts, likes beagles or harriers, that may share the same fields, also have been at risk of getting infected? Perhaps they did, but nobody reported it?

If other packs of hounds were invited as guests in the Kimblewick Hunt's territory during the time the hounds were not allowed out, could those hounds have been infected in the same way the Kimblewick hounds were, and then take the disease to their own territory when they would return home? Could all this have been happening for years?

Is there a cover up? Could the fact that Lord Gardiner of Kimble, the current Defra Parliamentary Under-Secretary, is also the former deputy chief executive of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance and an honorary member of this particular hunt, explain this possible cover up?

Are the hunts more responsible for the Bovine Tb epidemic that we are led to believe?

Let's ask these questions and uncover the truth!



Jordi Casamitjana is Head of Policy and Research art the League Against Cruel Sports.

Also on The Ecologist today: 'Bovine TB found in foxhounds - and nothing to do with badgers! Now what?' by Lesley Docksey.

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