Czech law on fox hunting upsets animal-rights groups

Fox hunting in the Czech Republic may not come with all of the red coats and horses that you might expect to see elsewhere - often it's more a case of one man and his dog in the woods. But the issue is just as controversial as elsewhere. The Czech parliament has just approved a law which allows hunters to train their dogs through direct contact with foxes. Previously, foxes and dogs had to be kept apart by a cage during training, so that neither suffered injury. Animal rights groups are dismayed by the move.

Until now hunting dogs in the Czech Republic were trained to drive foxes out of their dens in a labyrinth of artificial burrows, in which a fox sat caged. But on Tuesday, parliament approved a law which removed the need for a cage. Animal rights groups are stunned by the move. Vojtěch Kotecký is from Friends of the Earth:

“Well I think that this decision is the wrong one, simply because it may be relatively minor in comparison to say, animal farming, but it is still a problem concerning animal welfare. This approach to training dogs is simply unacceptable from an animal welfare point of view.”

Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovič called on MPs not to approve the law, saying it diverged from European norms on animal cruelty. At a time when other European countries like Great Britain are clamping down on fox-hunting, this new Czech law appears to go very much against the trend. The bill, however, has been praised in some quarters. Josef Pubal is from the Czech Hunters’ Union:

“The training of dogs to hunt foxes should be as similar as possible to the way it is in nature. Up until now, dogs have been trained to think that when they run into a fox’s den, then there will be a cage at the end. So they start to bark, to tell their owners that a fox is there. But then in nature, when a dog runs into a fox’s den, there is no cage, and so the dog is confused.”

While many worry for the welfare of the fox under this new legislation, Mr Pubal insists that the change in the law actually does more to ensure the welfare of the dog:

“In nature, a fox, or in the worst cases, a badger, will often start to attack the dog. The dog of course is not prepared for this, because normally a cage is there to separate the two. So the dog is confused, and the fox or badger takes this opportunity to maul the dog, or at least give the dog a few scratches.”

Hunters’ groups say that the training of dogs to hunt foxes, and ultimately fox-hunting itself, is needed to regulate the animal’s numbers. Members of animal rights groups agree that the country’s fox population needs to be managed, but wonder whether the new law promotes the right way of going about it. Again, here’s Vojtěch Kotecký:

“There is of course a problem with the disappearance of foxes’ predators. We need to reintroduce predators where we can, which generally means in mountain areas. We have to regulate the fox population, yes, but the question is not whether we should regulate the fox population, it’s whether we should do it in a cruel way.”

In a nation of 100,000 licensed hunters, with many MPs included in this number, the views of Mr Kotecký and other animal rights campaigners could remain very much in the minority for quite some time to come.