Hunting – a war of words

In the run up to the General Election on Thursday, one topic is very much in the news again – fox hunting, and more specifically a vote on repealing the Hunting Act.

According to a new poll by Survation, nearly half of all voters are “less likely” to vote for candidates who want to make fox hunting legal once more. And we already know that there is huge public support for keeping the ban.

But, the devil is in the detail when it comes to how this issue is being communicated. ‘Cull’, ‘wildlife management’ –  these are the words being used to sugar-coat killing.

A recent article by David Johns and Dominick A DellaSala from Portland State University surmises that the use of euphemisms such as these sanitise and disguise the act that they describe, making the pill a little sweeter to swallow.

It’s certainly a trend that is rife in the UK. One 16 page publication from 2012 produced by a pro-hunting organisation used the word ‘kill’ 9 times whereas ‘management’ was used 46 times.

You will consistently read about the need to ‘control populations’, to ‘manage wildlife’. Once again these words just mean kill. These words are hollow; they take the emotion out of the deed. They’re also questionable in their accuracy as the truth is that foxes predate other ‘pests’ such as rabbits, which can cause damage to arable farms. The evidence behind the impact foxes have on livestock such as lambs is debatable at best too. It seems the natural order could indeed be managed by Mother Nature better than some would have us believe.

Another phrase that gets repeated a lot within this debate describes hunting as ‘the most humane, effective and natural method of wildlife management’. Once again this sanitises the act, making it appear palatable and almost clinical. Yes, in the natural kingdom animals hunt one another, but this is almost solely to feed themselves, for survival. To equate this to an orchestrated hunt with dogs specifically bred and trained to track, chase and kill foxes is a complete corruption of the word ‘natural’. There is nothing natural about the way a hunting party behaves. Nor is there anything humane about chasing a terrified animal to the point of total exhaustion before allowing a pack of dogs to pull it apart.

While we’re on the subject of the dogs used in a hunt, I’ve noticed a quirk in the way these animals are described. These are most certainly dogs – there is nothing physically different about them to distinguish them from any other regular dog. But, oddly they’re always called ‘hounds’, adding an artificial distinction from other dogs. Perhaps this is to excuse the way the animals are treated. It’s widely known that after these animals cease to be considered useful, normally at around seven years old, the hunt will ‘euthanise’ the hound. It’s a ‘working dog’ so killing it after it can no longer perform its duties is somehow seen as ok. A guide dog is a working dog too – would a hunt group also say it was appropriate to euthanise those animals after they retire from service?

Words are powerful. So let’s call things what they are. Let’s cull the word cull. Let’s manage the word management. Because killing is killing. It should elicit an emotional response, and we need it to in order to win the argument.

Ripping apart an animal under the guise of humane wildlife management is preposterous. It all adds to this myth that hunting is about pageantry, tradition, and helping the countryside. That isn’t the case. Hunting is about thugs finding an excuse to kill something for fun. Like a football hooligan seeking to brawl.

In the next Parliament we may see a vote on the future of the Hunting Act. If we are to protect the hunting ban we need to be honest about what it means – and that that starts with being more truthful in the words we use.  

--RH

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