19th Jan 2016
Run to exhaustion, alone, being savaged by hounds and shot - this is the reality of stag hunting before the Hunting Act and what we will return to if it gets repealed. Tiverton Stag Hounds, 26 February 1982. Photo courtesy of Mike Huskisson
During the late 1990’s, National Trust (NT) members expressed concerns about stag hunting on NT properties. As a result of these concerns the NT commissioned and financed a study into the welfare implications of hunting with hounds.
The study was carried out by Professor Patrick Bateson, Professor of Ethology (animal behaviour) at the University of Cambridge, and his his assistant, Elizabeth L Bradshaw.
Bateson and Bradshaw conducted their study with the full and active co-operation of officials, staff and followers from two stag hunts: the Devon & Somerset Stag Hounds and the Quantock Stag Hounds.
Bateson and Bradshaw studied 64 red deer that were subjected to hunting with hounds. It was the first time ever that scientific and observational evidence of the state of red deer at their time of death had been taken. Blood and muscle samples obtained immediately after death were compared with similar samples from 50 non-hunted red deer that had been shot cleanly with rifles.
On March 11th 1997 Bateson and Bradshaw published a report, entitled Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer. The National Trust responded by banning stag hunting on their properties the next day. It should be noted that the two hunts involved, and the Tiverton Stag Hounds, continued to hunt deer in their traditional way right up until the Hunting Act (2004) came in to force. Subsequently, exemptions under the Hunting Act permit a modified form of stag hunting to this day.
Bateson and Bradshaw open their Report with ‘Summary Comments’ as follows:
– When red deer (Cervus elaphus) were hunted by humans with hounds the average distance travelled was at least 19km.
– The effects on deer of long hunts were (i) depletion of carbohydrate resources for powering muscles, (ii) disruption of muscle tissue, and (iii) elevated secretion of B-endorphin. High concentrations of cortisol, typically associated with extreme physiological and psychological stress, were found.
– Taken together, the evidence suggests that red deer are not well-adapted by their evolutionary or individual history to cope with the level of activity imposed on them when hunted with hounds.
Bateson and Bradshaw finish their Report with a ‘Discussion’, which includes the following concluding comments:
– the exertion associated with hunting with hounds resulted in marked physiological disturbances of red deer, including muscle damage and pronounced intravascular haemolysis [rupture or destruction of red blood cells]. We do not believe that these changes merely occurred at the end of the hunts. The evidence suggests that haemolysis occurred early in the hunt, resulting perhaps from upsets in ionic balance, extreme plasma acidity or hyperthermia.
– Other evidence points to the cumulative effects of hunting: for instance, leakage of muscle enzymes into the bloodstream was greater in more excessive hunts.
– this study provides the first quantitative evidence that the physiological effects of hunts of even a relatively short distance and duration are severe, while longer hunts are characterised by signs of extreme exhaustion. Physiological changes of this nature are uncommon in both human and non-human athletes, and would not be expected to result from the typically short chases of red deer by wolves in natural conditions.
Patrick Bateson and Elizabeth L Bradshaw Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer (full report):
THES, Deer Hunters Must Call Off The Dogs, 11 April 1997
© Joe Hashman