Hounded out by a pack of hypocrites
With the law banning hunting with dogs, which came into effect on Friday, British parliamentarians have created a new order of animals, and raised hypocrisy to a new order of magnitude. A law which is claimed to protect mammals has, in effect, created two main classes. Let us call them the sacred and the profane. In addition, the law creates a complex of subclasses of animal rights - and lack of rights - worthy of the Indian caste system.
Into the sacred category have been placed foxes and hares. Foxes have hitherto been regarded as vermin; vicious animals with a tendency to massacre lesser creatures such as lambs and chickens for the sheer fun of it. But they are now protected from one of their few natural predators - packs of hounds.
On the other hand, unnatural predators have free rein to kill foxes at will. One can shoot them, poison or trap them, whether or not it inflicts a lingering death far more painful than a hound's bite. But only man can do the killing: it is immoral for dogs. However, for those intent on using nature's way to kill foxes, there is still one chance: the falcon. That is all right.
Given the parliamentarians' zeal to outlaw traditional English sports, one must conclude that this notable exception has been thanks to lobbying by those well-heeled falcon fanciers from the oil-rich Gulf.
Next in the sacred category is the hare. Of course, men are still to be allowed to shoot, poison and trap them, whether for the pleasure of eating or the kick they get from firing a gun at them.
But the oh-so-moral parliamentarians cannot stand the thought that a pack of beagles should do the job, more efficient though they most certainly are. Hounds kill, they do not maim. Hares are not that lucky. Many more have been killed by guns than by packs of hounds. But at least they can now claim a much superior status, compared with their close relative, the rabbit. The once beloved bunny is now a profane beast unworthy of parliamentary protection. Shooting, poisoning and trapping these unaggressive vegetarians is allowed, as is hunting them with dogs. (And falcons, of course).
Also surprisingly in the profane category is another innocent mammal: the mouse. Not even popular attachment to Mickey Mouse or the success of Jerry in evading the predatory Tom has been able to save it from parliamentary disdain. People can not only kill mice themselves, they can also set any number of cats on the little creatures. And they can even use dogs - assuming hounds will stoop so low. Dogs can also still be used to hunt rats. Of course, rats are the favourite of only a few people, but the morality of setting dogs on them and not on foxes has yet to be explained.
Hounds still have a chance to be useful in hunting - but only if they do the bidding of man. They can be used to flush out wild animals, but man (or birds of prey) must do the dirty work.
The status of birds of prey is indeed remarkable when one notes that game and wild birds enjoy no protection, least of all from the shotguns which maim as often as they kill. And do not expect parliamentary protection of animals to extend to fishing (far too popular with voters) - or to shooting of birds (far too lucrative).
As for factory farming - who cares about millions of animals and birds reared in often appalling conditions when parliamentarians can save a few hundred foxes and hares from the hounds?
Philip Bowring is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator