Friday, August 9, 2013

Enquiry into the RSPCA? - Part 4: Wild animals

Wild animals have been a source of contention for the RSPCA ever since it was founded in 1824. It is known that two of the major original founders (Arthur Broome and Lewis Gompertz) were opponents of fox-hunting and two (Richard Martin and Thomas Erskine) were themselves hunters, although Martin seems to have had some doubts about its legitimacy towards the end of his life.

During the RSPCA's first hundred years the hunting question does not seem to have caused serious difficulties because there were other animal welfare concerns which were clearly more urgent. However during the 20th century opposition to hunting became progressively more insistent. Both sides viewed the RSPCA as the gatekeeper to legislation; provided the RSPCA remained neutral or opposed a ban no government would give parliamentary time to a hunting bill.

Thus, the anti-hunt lobby came to view the RSPCA with nearly hysterical loathing, and it was extremely tempting for the pro-hunt faction to try to push the Society beyond a view that, although hunting was cruel, there were worse abuses, into positive opposition to a hunt ban. Once opposition to hunting with dogs had become RSPCA policy the pro-hunters became equally hysterical in their hatred of the Society. Unfortunately there was often no corresponding change in the views of many anti-hunters, who still saw the RSPCA as an obstacle to radical change in the way animals are treated.

Wildlife Hospitals

Parallel to the issue of legal protection for wild animals there was the question of rescue of injured or sick wild animals. As individuals viewed as animal welfare experts the inspectors were commonly asked to help. This might be relatively straightforward if an uninjured animal could simply be freed and released or if one was clearly so ill that mercy killing was the only option (for example in the case of rabbits with myxomatosis). However it was more difficult if a wild animal was potentially salvageable (for example oiled seabirds) but only if longer-term treatment and care was available.

Currently the RSPCA has four specialist wildlife centres (fully funded by the Central RSPCA not the local branches) and wild animals are included in their national agreement with vets. This states that vets should examine and give first aid to small wildife and birds free of charge during normal working hours while the RSPCA will include larger birds and mammals in its general scheme for provision of funding to cover first aid and will also pay for emergency treatment of small wildlife outside normal hours.

Treatment of sick/injured wildlife remains contentious to an extent as it is RSPCA policy that wild animals should be euthanased if they cannot be rehabilitated sufficiently to be returned to the wild.

What an enquiry might say

A relatively short period of time has elapsed since the passing of the Hunting Act and it may be that passions will eventually die down as those who were mainly interested in hunting in order to ride or watch hounds track find alternative ways to enjoy the outdoors.

Anti-RSPCA feeling has been sparked off again by a number of enforcement cases brought by the Society after a lull during which it seems that some people in the hunting camp were content to assume the law would not be strictly applied.

This has potentially serious implications for the much larger number of people who depend on the RSPCA's practical welfare services (which represent by far the largest part of its activities).

It might be helpful if the RSPCA were to re-examine whether some disabled (or simply too tame) wildlife could have a meaningful life in semi-natural conditions - for example in an enclosed deer park.

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