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Tiverton Staghounds dogs savage and kill pregnant alpaca

A pregnant alpaca named Ruby was attacked and killed by dogs from the Tiverton Staghounds on New Year’s Day. Her guardians, Lucy Aylett and Nick Stringer, said that the hunt had not informed them that they would be hunting that day, and that the hounds were clearly out of control.

Lucy told DevonLive:

“She was badly savaged around her hind quarters and died of her wounds shortly after the attack. It would have been an agonising death. She was pregnant and her unborn baby died as well. Luckily the cria (baby alpaca) she was nursing managed to escape.”

Ruby had to be euthanised by a vet.

The hunt was trespassing on Lucy and Nick’s land when the attack happened. The couple run Rosebud Alpacas near South Molton in Devon, holding meditation and yoga classes in the alpaca field.

The trail hunting tactic

Along with the  Quantock Staghounds (which mainly hunt the Quantock Hills AONB), and the Devon & Somerset Staghounds (which hunt Dartmoor National Park), the Tiverton Staghounds is one of the three registered stag hunting packs still hunting deer in England. The blood sport is the southwest of England’s version of trophy hunting, renowned for its cruelty and the depravity of its supporters. Hunters use a variety of coordinated transport methods to murder stags and hinds, including quad bikes, motorbikes and horseback.

Like fox hunting, stag and hind hunting is illegal. Under the Hunting Act, it is against the law to hunt a wild animal with more than two dogs. But like fox hunters, deer hunters use a variety of loopholes to get around the law. The Tiverton Staghounds uses a full pack of hounds while hunting, and if they’re being watched, they rely on the trail hunting loophole to try to excuse their criminal activities. Trail hunting is supposedly when hounds follow an artificial scent laid in advance of the hunt, rather than that of a live animal. It didn’t exist before the passing of the Hunting Act and there is little evidence that a trail is ever laid – feigning ‘trail laying’ is a tactic increasingly being used to confuse and disguise illegal hunting.

Protect the Wild has been told by a source that the Tiverton Staghounds are getting braver with the number of dogs they lay on for so-called trail hunting. The source said:

“They have a quad & gator with ‘trail layers’ marked on it. Where the hunted deer runs they will video someone running the exact line with a trail, then video hounds hunting that line. I’m very surprised that they haven’t been caught out before this…

Like fox hunting packs in England, deer hunters are obviously aware that time is almost up on illegal hunting, and that there is a growing awareness amongst the public of their criminal activities. In a desperate bid to stay afloat – and to avoid being prosecuted under the Hunting Act – both fox hunting and deer hunting packs are beginning to employ different tactics one of which is to pretend that they actually are trail hunting.

As our source explained above, packs are starting to use dedicated ‘trail layers’. This tactic is obviously to cover their backs under the eyes of the law. Using this method, if they kill an animal, they can say that their hounds were following a trail, show footage to ‘prove’ it, and then say that any kills were purely accidental.

Our source said that the Tiverton Staghounds conveniently ‘lays a trail’ on the exact same line that a deer has already run – so behind the animal and sending hounds along the exact line the fleeing animal has already taken. Another ‘trail-laying’ tactic used by fox hunters is to lay a scent right next to coverts, where foxes and deer are likely to be anyway. On top of this, South Norfolk Hunt Saboteurs pointed out to Protect the Wild recently that the trail mixture used by hunts is of animal-origin, so a “hunt is still essentially training hounds to hunt animals.”

We don’t know whether a trail was actually laid on the day that Ruby the alpaca was brutally killed but it seems highly unlikely as trails rarely are despite hunts attempting to convince onlookers that’s what they’re doing But we do know, through eyewitness accounts by hunt saboteurs, that even if trails are allegedly laid, hounds often take no notice of them anyway.

It’s time to replace the Hunting Act

Unfortunately, Ruby’s death isn’t a one-off. Time and time again we’ve seen similar situations. In January 2023 the Grafton Hunt’s fox hunting hounds chased sheep through a farmers’ field, causing one sheep to drown. The ewes, who were all pregnant, scattered, breaking out of their field, and some fled into a river to escape. Also in January 2023, hounds from the Mendip Farmers Hunt (MFH) caused havoc as they tore through Chew Valley Animal Park. They were following the scent of a wild animal. The hounds traumatised goats and camels, and some of the affected goats were pregnant. And in November 2023, the Dartmoor Hunt ran rampage, its hounds terrorising animals of Farm & Feral Animal Sanctuary in south Devon.

It’s urgent that the Hunting Act is scrapped and replaced with a law that has no room for loopholes. Protect the Wild is campaigning for Westminster to introduce the Hunting of Mammals Bill. Under the Bill, hunters would be prosecuted not just for hunting intentionally, but for acting recklessly too. So the attack on Ruby would mean that Tiverton Staghounds staff would be immediately liable for prosecution.

Under the Hunting of Mammals Bill, trail hunting, too, would be made illegal. As more and more hunts are changing their tactics to make it look like they are trail hunting, we need to ban the practice once and for all. Last year, Scotland introduced the Hunting With Dogs (Scotland) Act. Under the Act, ministers banned trail hunting. Scotland’s Environment Minister Màiri McAllan announced at the time:

“We…plan to take pre-emptive action to prevent trail hunting becoming established in Scotland in order to reduce the risk of wild mammals being killed by dogs.”

  • Scotland is leaps and bounds ahead of England and Wales when it comes to protecting animals from being hunted with dogs. But the country has shown us what is possible. Together we can make change happen: please sign our petition calling for a proper ban on hunting here.