Graphic new footage of a stag killed by a hunt in the West Country has led to renewed questioning of the hunt’s claim they are taking part in ‘research’.
Professional investigators from the League Against Cruel Sports were joined by the BBC as they monitored the Devon and Somerset Staghounds chasing a red deer stag across nine miles of moorland.
At least two gun shots, separated by over a minute, rang out indicating the kill was botched. Footage was later obtained of the hunt ritually carving up the carcass of the animal.
Martin Sims, director of investigations at the League Against Cruel Sports, former head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and a serving police officer for 31 years, said: “The idea that this hunt is undertaking research and observation is ridiculous.
"This is simply illegal hunting but with a lame excuse not dissimilar to the Japanese Government’s rationale for butchering whales.
"It’s a cruel and unnecessary spectator sport with horrible parallels to trophy hunting only the long chase makes it even worse."
The Devon and Somerset Staghounds have been using a loophole in the hunting law which they claim allows them to hunt under the guise of ‘research and observation’, though the League believes this is a cover for illegal hunting.
Sir David Amess MP, for Southend West and patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, said: "I am appalled to see the hunting of deer with hounds still taking place across the British countryside."
Amess continued: "The pursuit of deer to exhaustion, ending with a bullet to the head and being carved up for trophies, is truly shocking and the public expect such cruel and macabre bloodsports to be consigned to the history books.
"The Hunting Act must be strengthened as a matter of urgency - including by removing the ‘research and observation’ exemption - so that there can be no cover for this cruelty."
The incident happened in the last week of October 2018, thirteen years after hunting with dogs was banned in England and Wales. It featured on the South West BBC regional news with presenter Ben Woolvin who accompanied League investigators as they monitored the Devon and Somerset Staghounds.
The Devon and Somerset Staghounds were followed by hundreds of people on horseback, in cars, and on quad bikes and motor bikes.
Hunt officials were caught on camera collecting the ‘cap’, the fee that is charged to people who follow the hunt as spectators throughout the day.
Martin Sims said: “We sadly witnessed a magnificent creature being hounded for miles across Exmoor before being shot and carved up for trophies.
“There is no excuse for what happened and sadly this is going on week in, week out for most of the year. We have evidence that hundreds of deer are being killed by the hunts each season in a cruel and barbaric fashion that has no place in a modern and compassionate society.”
Prior to the hunting ban coming into effect in 2005, the chasing of deer was proven to cause deer extreme physiological stress along with mental distress in a major study by Professor Patrick Bateson.
Unable to sweat, the deer often end up in water at the end of the chase –this particular stag was killed in the river Barle.
League Investigators heard two shots after the three-hour chase and then filmed the dead deer being loaded up onto the back of a four-wheel drive.
The carve-up, which was filmed by the BBC at the end of the hunt, involves the deer’s entrails being fed to the hounds and the hooves, known as slots, and the teeth given out as trophies to supporters of the hunt. You can see footage of a carve-up taken by the League in March 2018.
The heart is normally given to the owner of the land where the deer was killed and the head and antlers given to the Master of the Hunt as a trophy.
Three hunts are currently chasing and killing red deer in Devon and Somerset – the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, the Quantock Staghounds and the Tiverton Staghounds.
A further two hunts – the Exe Valley Buckhounds and the Cheldon Buckhounds – are chasing and killing roe deer, the eponymous hero of the Bambi novel. The red deer hunts have just finished their stag hunting season and are about to switch to killing hinds – sometimes pregnant and often accompanied by calves.
A League petition calling for an end to the killing of animals by hunts in the UK has attracted over 100,000 signatures.
Marianne Brooker is a contributing editor for The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the League Against Cruel Sports.
Cruel world of a stag hunt