[CONTENT WARNING: DESCRIPTIONS OF ANIMAL ABUSE AND DEATHS]
From autumn until mid spring, the chilling sounds of hunting hounds in pursuit of foxes can still be heard all over the UK countryside. Fox hunts are responsible for some of the most heartbreaking acts of animal cruelty imaginable. Thankfully, there are groups of dedicated people who descend on the countryside to disrupt the hunters and level the playing field for the wildlife.
Generally, the UK public believes hunting is banned as a result of insubstantial laws that were passed almost 20 years ago. The 2004 Hunting Act and the 2002 Protection of Wild Mammals Act were intended to put an end to fox hunting. Unfortunately, due to seemingly deliberate loopholes and the hunters’ general disregard for the law, these acts have proven to be ineffective.
In England and Wales, hunters pretend they’re carrying out a hunting simulation – ‘trail hunting’ – where hounds supposedly follow a pre-laid animal-based scent trail. Conveniently for them, this farce mimics the traditional blood sport in almost every way, so onlookers often can’t distinguish between the real and the simulation. This means that the hunters can kill with impunity and claim that the deaths were accidental. In Scotland, foxes are intentionally hunted and killed under the guise of ‘pest control’, in which a gunman is supposed to shoot a fox as he/she flees from cover after being ‘flushed’ by hounds. In reality, the gunmen often stand around as the hounds catch and consume the fox, as they did before the 2002 act. The reality of fox hunting is brutal and savage: petrified animals are chased, often for hours, until the point of exhaustion before being mauled to pieces. If a fox escapes below ground, terrier men will force a terrier dog into the earth to force the fox out, or failing that, will slowly dig them out.
As brutal as this sport is, there are activists out there who have figured out how to successfully sabotage a hunt. Commonly known as ‘Hunt saboteurs', they form local, non-hierarchical groups which can be small compared to the size of some hunts - but even a handful of people can make a difference and save lives once they know how it’s done.
Hunt saboteurs are ordinary people who use non-violent, direct action tactics to disrupt the hunt, mainly by distracting and redirecting the hounds in ways that don’t harm them. This is done by mimicking the huntsman’s voice calls, using plant-based scents to disguise the smell of the fleeing fox, and by cracking whips in the air (the signal for the hounds to stop).
Even without using specific techniques and equipment, saboteurs - or ‘sabs’ - can disrupt a hunt by merely showing up and walking around. Sometimes, the mere presence of anti-hunters can discourage illegal hunting and change the course of the day. Some people might see sabs as heroic or extraordinary, but they’re just ordinary people who spend some of their free time from September until March to ruin the hunt’s day.