We often talk about the ethical stance we take in farm and land management. Most of the time, the issues are pretty straightforward but there are some that are bit prickly and we thought it would be good to discuss them here, so we’re writing a series of posts on hunting.
As a first attempt, we’re going to talk about foxes. There’s agreement, on most sides of the debate, that foxes in Australia are bad news. They get the blame for most of our mammal extinctions (we have the highest rate in the world) and are considered a pretty nasty pest for livestock farmers. On the plus side, they tend to keep rabbit numbers down, but that seems to be all they have going for them.
In Australia all land owners and managers are legally obliged to eradicate foxes from their land. While this is basically impossible with a species as well entrenched as the fox in Australia, we’re going to accept, for the purpose of this story, that there is both a legal and a moral argument to at least attempt to get rid of foxes from the land we manage.
Back in the 1980s, professional hunters would get permission to hunt on farm land; there was no cost to the farmer as fox skins were worth about $35 each. These people made their living shooting foxes and the skins were used for coats and the like. From an ethical point of view, the important thing about this system was that in order to have a value, the skin must be free of damage; this meant only a single shot to the head was an acceptable way to kill a fox.
At some point the campaign to vilify people who wear fur took hold and the value of fox skins went to zero. While the campaign had a positive effect in protecting endangered animals from being killed for their skins, the outcome for the fox in Australia was not so good. Foxes are killed in similar numbers to previously, however the methods have changed. It now no longer matters how they are shot (the body is a bigger target than the head, so makes for an easier shot) and the method approved and promoted by government bodies is to poison them using 1080 baits.
There are many reasons not to like 1080 poison. It can take up to 48 hours for a fox to die from taking a bait and they suffer terribly for this time. It also is completely indiscriminate about what is kills, baits can be taken by native animals and birds, although there are ways to lessen the risks.
The argument can be made that in order to protect the endangered animals from the fur trade, it was necessary to morally “ban” all fur, yet the Akubra hat, an Australian icon, doesn’t seem to have been tarred with the same brush. The hats are made from felted rabbit hair and the rabbit is killed before the hair is removed. Perhaps the difference is that an Akubra doesn’t look like a rabbit, but if we can differentiate in this case between an endangered animal and a feral pest being utilised for it’s fur, then we should be able to apply the same idea to foxes. After all, noone ever threw red paint over a veteran’s hat during an ANZAC day parade.