A video posted on social media of a dead fox being torn apart by a pack of hounds has been described by animal welfare charities as “abhorrent” and “barbaric”.
Fife Foxhounds was filmed by Perthshire Hunt Sabs on 16 February 2019 at Crossroads, near Gauldry in Fife, as hounds appeared to repeatedly bite a dead fox in a field.
The video was published by Perthshire Hunt Sabs the following day on its Facebook page, prompting more than 100 critical comments from the public and condemnation by animal welfare groups.
Hunts often give fox carcasses to their hounds and nothing illegal took place during the incident.
The footage shows riders with Fife Foxhounds in a field watching hounds tear into a fox. One huntsman appears to be texting on his mobile phone as the animal is ripped apart at the feet of his horse.
Perthshire Hunt Sabs, which monitors hunts and tries to prevent foxes being killed, said: “Today Perthshire sabs came across a distressing scene. We caught up with the hunt and discovered that the hounds had just been given a fox to rip up.
“The hounds were being praised and rewarded for tearing up the fox, something which would surely encourage them to want to chase and catch foxes. The whole hunt were in high spirits at the scene and as they left, the huntsman was heard saying that they would try to get another one.”
Perthshire Hunt Sabs continued: “While most people would be horrified to see this happening, it seems like the riders were enjoying the whole spectacle. It is very disturbing that in this day and age such a scene of brutality is deemed acceptable, even thoroughly enjoyable to some.”
The video also prompted condemnation from animal rights campaigners. Bob Elliot, director of animal welfare charity, OneKind, said he was “utterly sickened” by the video which “appears to show a pack of hounds ripping apart a fox, presumably training the dogs for the future”.
“It’s now been 16 years since fox hunting was meant to have been banned, and yet again we are seeing just how barbaric this so-called sport actually is. There is no place for this cruel and outdated sport in a modern Scotland, and we once again call upon the Scottish Government to bring in a real and effective fox hunting ban,” Elliot added.
His views were echoed by Robbie Marsland, director of The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, who said The League’s fieldworkers have also filmed foxes “being thrown to hounds to encourage their blood lust for killing”.
He added: “Like fox hunting it is abhorrent. The Scottish Government recently announced it plans to strengthen the current laws. This repellent kind of behaviour shows it can’t happen a day too soon.”
In reply the director of Scottish Countryside Alliance, Jamie Stewart, said: “The fox in question had been shot and killed within the prescription of the law.” He described some of the social media responses to the film footage as “vitriolic, ill-informed and based on emotional response.”
“In his review on behalf of the Scottish Government, Lord Bonomy reported: ‘Sentiment has no part to play in evaluating the material presented to and gathered in the course of the review.’ The death of an animal, at an individual level, is not a welfare issue but the manner in which an animal dies can be.”
Stewart pointed out that legislation clearly set out the position when using foxhounds to flush foxes from cover. “Subject to compliance with one of the exceptions with the act, a person who is engaged in legal pest control may do so, as long as they act to ensure that, once the target wild mammal is found or emerges from cover, it is shot, or killed by a bird of prey, once it is safe to do so,” he told The Ferret.
Fox hunting in Scotland is currently controlled by the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, which came into force in 2002. This in effect banned hunting with dogs, but included an exemption allowing hounds to be used to flush foxes out of cover so they can be shot, as a pest control measure.
In recent years, however, some hunts have been accused of hunting illegally and questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the law. Police Scotland called it “unworkable”.
In January, following a review of the current law, the Scottish Government announced it would introduce new legislation to tighten restrictions on fox hunting in Scotland.
The new bill will be designed to close loopholes in the existing rules, limiting the number of dogs which can be used while hunting to two.
Animal welfare groups welcomed the move but gamekeepers said this would make hunts “totally ineffective” and claimed it would be “a disaster for wildlife and farm stock”.