Hunters who chased an exhausted stag for more than two hours have been accused of causing “depraved scenes of bloodlust”.
Members of North Dorset Hunt Saboteurs who filmed the hunt say they believe children were involved in the chase on horseback in Somerset and have reported it to police.
Footage appears to show at least six hunters on horseback following the stag, cracking their whips, together with a quad bike and a motorbike. They then chase it up a hillside.
One saboteur told The Independent: “It was very disturbing to see such frenzied behaviour in their efforts to both prolong the chase and kill the stag.
“In my view it’s true depravity to get such excitement and enjoyment out of killing, knowing full well the fear and suffering they are causing for no other reason than their pleasure. And children involved too.
“He should have been safe on National Trust land and he made it, but they went around and came at him from the other side.” The saboteur added that they felt “the cruelty and depraved bloodlust unspeakable.”
Hunting any mammal with dogs is illegal under the 2004 Hunting Act, but there are exceptions. An animal may be “flushed out” by up to two hounds and shot; or may be caught if the animal is being rescued. Hunts sometimes say a stag was injured so had to be “dispatched”, according to opponents.
Several riders appeared to be children, according to the saboteur, who said: “We watched that same stag running back and forth for over two hours.
“We don’t know if he survived – they went on till dark and a shot was heard.
“It seems the height of unfairness to target stags during the rut. For weeks now they’ve been barely eating or sleeping as they chase after hinds to mate and fight off competition from other stags.
“They are exhausted and in poor body condition already, without having to then run for their lives. He kept circling back to his herd.
“[The hunt was] in the same area again today and killed a stag early on. We can’t help wondering if it was him and they went after him again while he was still recovering.”
A monitor said although stags are regularly hunted there, this was some of the worst behaviour he had seen in 40 years.
“Those present had no feelings for the hunted animal at all, just their cruel sadistic sport,” the saboteur added.
The monitors condemned the hunters’ action as “selfish at half-term with so many families out and about trying to enjoy nature”.
A 1997 study by Professor Patrick Bateson of Cambridge University found that deer hunts cannot claim their sport was not cruel, saying: “It’s clear these animals are completely depleted of resources – they are desperately affected by long chases.
“From the point of view of physiology, the results are absolutely unambiguous.”
The report says of deer that escape hounds, about half suffer severe stress, take days to recover, and are probably left more vulnerable to infection and disease.
A spokesperson for Avon and Somerset Police said: “We received a report yesterday afternoon (Thursday 26 October) about an alleged hunting offence which took place in the Quantock Hills earlier in the week.
“Enquiries, including reviewing footage, are ongoing.”
The Quantock Staghounds and the Hunting Office have been approached for comment.
During the Covid pandemic, the Devon and Somerset Staghounds were handed a £10,000 grant and a £50,000 loan from taxpayer-backed schemes that helped struggling businesses survive.