Welfare Implications of Culling Red Deer (Cervus Elaphus)
In southwestern England, red deer, Cervus elaphus, are culled by rifle ('stalking') or by hunting with hounds ('hunting'). We compare the welfare costs of the two culling methods. Observations of hunts revealed that likely stressors such as close proximity to humans and hounds, active pursuit, noise, obstruction and physical restraint prior to despatch were very common. Other stressors, such as wounding, were rare. The blood profiles of hunted deer were compared both with injured deer, which were put down because they were thought to be suffering, and with stags stalked in the rutting season, when mature males rapidly lose weight and may be damaged in fights. Extensively hunted deer did not differ from severely injured deer in measures of muscle disruption: in hunted deer measures of red blood cell damage and psychological stress were higher. Hunted stags killed during the rut showed markedly higher levels of measures of blood and muscle cell disruption, psychological stress and fat reserve mobilization than stalked stags killed during this season. Estimates of wounding rates by stalkers showed that 11 per cent of deer required two or more shots to kill, 7 per cent took 2–15 min to die and 2 per cent escaped wounded. Overall, we judged that the welfare costs associated with hunting red deer were higher than those associated with stalking, and reducing the welfare costs associated with hunting was much less feasible than reducing those associated with stalking.
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