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'Britain's most vile and sordid secret': What is fox cubbing?

Young fox kits keep an eye on their surroundings Friday, May 6, 2011.
Young fox kits keep an eye on their surroundings Friday, May 6, 2011. Copyright Terry Prather/AP
Copyright Terry Prather/AP
By Joshua Askew
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Wildlife campaigners told Euronews cubbing - which involves killing young foxes with packs of dogs - "needs to be exposed".

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In a few weeks the controversial "cubbing" season will start in Britain, where hounds are set to kill foxes. 

The practice - widely slammed as cruel - involves training dogs to kill young foxes in preparation for the hunt that begins in November.  

"Cubbing represents a particularly vicious form of animal abuse," Robert Pownall of the NGO Protect the Wild told Euronews. "It involves training young hounds to kill foxes by targeting their cubs, as dogs do not naturally possess the instinct to kill foxes."

Instead of being chased - like in regular hunts - cubs are hemmed into small woods and prevented from escaping by a pack of hounds, which scare them back if they try to flee.

“If you thought using a pack of hounds to chase and kill a terrified fox was bad enough, imagine doing the same to a cub, barely days into life," Pownall said. “This is one of Britain’s most vile and sordid secrets. It is Britain’s most shameful ‘tradition’ that still goes on and nothing is being done about it.”

He estimated up to 10,000 fox cubs are "brutally murdered" by hunts across the UK every single year.  

Fox hunting was banned in Britain in 2004, though there are exemptions in the rules that allow foxes to be flushed out using dogs. 

The practice still continues in some rural areas, such as southeast England, with some calling the exemptions loopholes in the law. 

Activists - known as sabs - often obstruct and follow hunts to monitor if they break the law, occasionally leading to violent confrontations. 

"It is truly unimaginable to find pleasure in the last days of summer by eagerly anticipating the opportunity to kill again," said Pownall. "Only individuals devoid of ethics and compassion would engage in such behaviour."

Critics claim fox hunting is barbaric and cruel, with foxes chased down by a large pack of dogs - at times, for several kilometres - and then mauled to death.

Supporters view it as an integral part of rural life, helping to keep the fox population down that can kill livestock. 

Around 80% of Brits believe fox hunting should remain illegal, with some 10% of the population wanting to see the ban lifted, according to YouGov polling data

The remaining 10% don't know. 

“The law on fox hunting is broken. Hunts across England and Wales are flouting a flawed piece of legislation, hunting not only foxes but setting hounds on their young in an endless attempt for bloodlust," said wildlife campaigner Pownall. "It is insanity.”

“It is the secret that needs to be exposed. It is probably the sickest activity in modern Britain that nobody seems to know about”.

Pownall says cubbing is variously referred to as "autumn hunting" or "hound exercise," alleging hunts use these terms "deceptively", "hoping to confuse the public and divert attention from their true intentions". 

Fox hunting in Britain can be traced back to the 16th century where it began as a means of controlling foxes, then - as now - considered a pest by many farmers. 

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It took off during the 1700s and 1800s gaining popularity as a sport of the aristocracy, reaching its peak in the 19th century and was widely seen as an integral part of British countryside life. 

Opposition has since grown for the unnecessary suffering it causes hunted foxes, especially among animal rights advocates. 

Pownall said Britain needed "a proper ban on hunting".

He said his NGO Protect the Wild had developed its own 'Hunting of Mammals Bill', which clears up "loopholes" in the existing legislation by adding clauses that forbid "reckless hunting".

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