Foxes & People
Fox Hunting

Whether you agree with the practice or not, fox hunting has had a significant historical role in Europe, and in Britain in particular. In its modern form, fox hunting is the pursuit of a fox on horseback with hounds for the purpose of sport.

The earliest known record of fox hunting was dated at 400 B.C ., although it is known to have occurred much earlier. Alexander the Great is said to have hunted foxes, as did the Romans by 80 A.D. Throughout the middle ages, foxes were considered a second class quarry, inferior to animals such as the stag. This opinion began to change after King Edward II published accounts of the practice in 1420. The decline of falconry in the seventeenth century greatly led to the increased popularity of the sport, and the first organized fox hunts began in that century. Land use laws were eventually enacted to increase the fox population and facilitate the hunt.

A modern hunt is financed by its Master of Fox Hounds (MFH) from his private funds. Members of a hunt typically wear bright scarlet coats called pinks, although other colours may be worn depending on the hunt. Prior to the hunt, dens and earths in the area may be filled in to prevent the fox from going to ground. Fox hounds are then set out to find a fox´s scent. When the quarry is found, it starts running and the hounds and men on horseback follow after in full gallop. Under British law, the hunt could freely trespass on private property so long as the MFH reimbursed the owner for any damage done. Riders present when the hounds finally catch the fox are said to be "in at the death". The MFH generally presents these riders with the brush (tail), mask (head), and pads (feet). The remainder of the animal is then thrown to the hounds.

American fox hunting tends to be less bloody than its British counterpart, with kills seldom being made. Attempts to prevent a fox from going under ground aren´t employed, nor are the animals likely to be dug out if they do so. Red foxes were originally imported to America for the purpose of hunting because the native species was then uncommon in the east (the North American red fox was originally called Vulpes fulva, although it is now considered to be identical to Vulpes vulpes.) The grey fox´s tendency to climb trees when threatened also made it unsuitable quarry. Australia imported foxes for hunting in 1845, and they had gained a foothold by the 1870´s. This has proven to be an ecological disaster. At least twenty marsupial species have been wiped out by the red fox, and many more are threatened today.

The future of fox hunting is uncertain. Great Britain is trying to reconcile this bloody sport with it´s reputation as a nation of animal lovers. Public support for the hunt has waned in recent years. Organizations such as the League Against Cruel Sports have been formed to ban the practice. In some cases, the riders have met with outright hostility. Some groups (such as the Hunt Saboteurs Assosciation) have actually been organized to sabotage the hunts, resulting in clashes between the hunters, activists, and authorities. (These incidents might actually be more exciting than the hunt itself, possibly forming the foundation of a new sport; humans just love to hurt each other!)

Some hunting groups have responded to public pressure in a novel way: instead of foxes, they chase down human volunteers instead. In this case, the prey is not dismembered when caught, merely slobbered on excessively. Besides being non violent, this alternative to fox hunting has the advantage of being able to be restricted to a confined area, and controlled with specific ground rules. The obvious disadvantage is that it flies in the face of tradition, which is one of the primary reasons behind the hunt. It remains to be seen whether "people hunting" will be viewed as a trite shallow substitute, or whether fox hunting of any kind has a future.

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