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VICTORY: County Down Staghounds bites the dust

Hunt saboteurs in Northern Ireland are celebrating as news comes in that County Down Staghounds is disbanding.

Hunt Saboteurs NI announced:

“The criminal County Down Staghounds have decided to disband, their years of illegal carting, killing pets and causing horrific pain to wildlife is over. Good riddance you bunch of murdering scumbags.”

Meanwhile, Action Against Staghunting (AAS) wrote:

“Fantastic news that the County Down Staghounds are disbanding! This is a massive statement that shows just how weak and vulnerable stag hunts are. Back in 2020 this Hunt hit headlines after onlookers were horrified as an exhausted deer was witnessed being chased by a pack of 30 hounds. A witness stated that the stag was so exhausted it was running with the hounds, tongue hanging out of its mouth and barely able to stand. This is just one incident in a long line of terror and pain this Hunt has inflicted over the years.”

These scenes are not uncommon in stag hunting. Indeed, in the southwest of England, too, activists have repeatedly filmed hunts driving stags to exhaustion before killing them.

AAS continued:

“Stag hunts are the epitome of animal cruelty but the tide is turning and these criminals will no longer be allowed to get away with feeble excuses and running amok, slaughtering animals for fun! A massive shout out to Hunt Saboteurs NI for all their hard work!”

A history of controversy

Footage publicised by the League Against Cruel Sports in 2022 showed the County Down Staghounds’ kennels holding stags captive. The footage showed stags with parasites and injuries, and resulted in a raid of the kennels. One stag had three legs, and another had lost his sight. Those conducting the raid put down one stag on the spot.

The hunt was carting deer. ‘Carting’ in the context of hunting means that hunts rear deer in order to release them for meet days. They will then ‘cart’ them to the meet location, and release them for hounds to chase.

In 2016, the pack made headlines when its hounds chased sheep. The ewes were pregnant and suffered multiple stillbirths after around 16 dogs invaded a farm. At least six lambs were born dead. At the time, farmer owner Esther Sloane said:

“The hunt think they can literally ride over us. It is time for all the farmers to come together and ban all hunting on all their land. Without land to hunt on, there would be no hunt.”

Back in 2005, footage of the County Down Staghounds chasing a stag to exhaustion was shown on BBC Northern Ireland. It caused uproar, and prompted the hunting industry to carry out a farcical inquiry, conducted by Northern Ireland Masters Association, the Hunting Association and the Countryside Alliance of Ireland. The hunt was, of course, cleared of any wrongdoing.

Make hunting illegal in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK where hunting with hounds remains legal. A private members bill, which attempted to legislate against hunting, was defeated in the Northern Ireland Assembly in December 2021.

Despite this, hunt saboteurs on the ground are having a massive effect. At the beginning of the 2022/23 fox hunting season, Killultagh Old Rock and Chichester Hunt folded. As Glen Black wrote at the time:

“There are only a handful remaining hunts in the north of Ireland. That makes the end of every single pack an important moment for wildlife lovers across the nation.”

Despite having the law on their side, it’s likely that more hunts in the north of Ireland will crack under the pressure of direct action in the year to come.