Meet The People Who Throw Themselves In Front Of Hunters
"This is private property," a man shouts into a nearby camera.
A woman's voice can be heard as well, replying: "We're just trying to make sure a crime is not going to be committed."
Near her, two people on horseback are waiting for something. After a few moments of footage, during which they stare at the camera, it seems they're waiting for the woman to turn around and leave.
The woman with the camera isn't about to be intimidated. She isn't about to let what the hunters want to happen, happen.
"There's a kill, there's a kill."
This is just part of the job of a hunt saboteur, someone who has volunteered their time and risked their own safety to protect animals through nonviolent tactics.
While saboteurs follow all kinds of hunting activities, much of what these grassroots organizers do in the U.K. focuses specifically on fox hunting, a bloody tradition that uses hounds to hunt down foxes and tear them limb from limb.
Even though fox hunting has been outlawed in the U.K. since 2005, many hunt saboteurs believe foxes are still illegally killed all the time.
And they have good reason. The ban is hard to enforce and this aristocratic pastime has an especially stubborn grip. Due to the nature of hunting with hounds, it is virtually impossible to say how many foxes are still killed each year. One source told The Dodo that before the ban, some hunts brought in six ravaged foxes in a single day. Further, earlier this year, the League Against Cruel Sports led a covert investigation and discovered 16 foxes being held captive in a barn so people could hunt them illegally.
Manchester Hunt Saboteurs
So hunt saboteurs do what they can to save the animals who can't save themselves.
The grim reality, say hunt sabs, as they are colloquially known, is that these foxes are chased until totally exhausted, then torn apart alive, "suffering greatly from the thrill of this 'sport' as the hunters so love to call it," according to one hunt sab.
"Supporters of hunting defend it by claiming the animals they're hunting are pests and that letting a pack of dogs rip them apart is the 'quickest and kindest' way," a representative from Manchester Hunt Saboteurs, who calls himself John, told The Dodo. "Anyone who has seen or heard a fox being killed by hounds knows that to be a lie."
Hunt sabs often prefer to stay anonymous because, according to John, anti-hunt activists have been attacked in their own homes. Some have even suffered the nightmare of finding their pets killed by, they suspect, hunt supporters.
Sabs are often taunted and derided. In one video, a hunt saboteur filmed hunters taunting the group of sabs with the body of a dead goose, swinging the bird's neck and miming sex acts with the mangled bird.
In other videos, hunt sabs, donning dark hoodies and camouflage pants, simply walk the trail behind hunters, refusing to turn a blind eye.
In still others, violence breaks out.
Manchester Hunt Saboteurs
But violence is not the aim of the hunt saboteur. So much of the saboteur's job is to bear witness, to stand there and keep the cameras rolling, to document the deaths of the animals some people care so little about.
"We are committed to stopping hunting with hounds and the persecution of British wildlife in general, through the use of non-violent direct action, despite often being on the receiving end of violence from hunts and their supporters," John said.
To stop hunts, saboteurs sometimes spray oils into the air to cover the scent of the foxes and blow hunting horns to confuse the hounds. Other times, they literally place themselves between the hunters and the animal being chased.
The footage sabs capture has been used to help convict hunting groups of illegal hunts.
One video even shows a woman rushing in to save a fox surrounded by hounds while hunters shout in the background.
"Oh god, they're in the field the fox was in," a woman's pained voice can be heard over the footage that convicted the Heythrop Hunt of illegal fox hunting. "They're coming round again."
"There's a kill, there's a kill," the camera woman shouts as she rushes in.
But she's intercepted by a hunter, who grabs her. "Did you just kill that fox?" she yells.
And grabbing a fellow saboteur by the neck, he just says, "This is private land."
"I've been threatened with violence."
Hunt saboteurs have been battling hunters at least since the 1960s, according to a July 2015 article in The Telegraph. This year marked a decade of the ban on fox hunting in the U.K.
"They do exactly now what they used to do before the Hunting Act," Lee Moon, spokesperson for the Hunt Saboteurs' Association (HSA), told The Telegraph. Up to 50 groups of saboteurs are involved with the HSA. "Some of it changes slightly when we or the police are there, but we believe that when there's no one watching them – and often when we are there – they continue to hunt illegally."
Accounts of residents discovering the mangled bodies of foxes near their homes regularly surface in the news, and people are often afraid to come forward about just how often the illegal hunts occur.
Manchester Hunt Saboteurs
A woman who wished to remain anonymous recently told the Lancaster Evening Post that she often sees people letting their dogs off their leashes to chase wild animals. Recently, she found the body of a dead fox with his head cut off "as some kind of sick trophy."
While she knows who has done it, and has reported the incident to the police, she fears using her name at all. "I don't want to use my name because when I've confronted these people I've been threatened with violence," she said.
In this sense, hunt saboteurs aren't just helping helpless animals - they're also coming to the aid of people sickened by the cruelty but too afraid to stop it.
And there's reason to be afraid. In the 1990s, violent clashes between hunt sabs and hunters were prevalent. In 1993, a 15-year-old hunt saboteur was crushed to death under the wheels of a horse trailer.
More than two decades later, even after the fox hunting ban, the battles between sabs and hunters are still being waged, as dozens of YouTube hunt sab channels show.
Hunters make offensive gestures at the camera. They say again and again, "This is private property."
As the hounds bound into the distance, and people follow on horseback, the cameras keep rolling.
"There are many days which inspire us."
Despite work that is by nature very confrontational and often terrifying, hunt sabs try to carve out some time to celebrate the victories.
"If we ever feel disheartened by the stories of animals who have suffered and died at the hands of the hunt, there are many days which inspire us," John said. One sabotage from last year was a particularly satisfying victory for the Manchester Hunt Saboteurs.
"A huntsman at the York and Ainsty South fox hunt took the hounds into a wood where they immediately found a scent and started to chase a fox but we had already positioned ourselves to intervene," John said. "As the fox ran out of the woods we leapt into action using voice calls and spraying citronella over the path the fox had taken to cover its scent."
The fox was able to sprint away.
But just then, the hounds found two other foxes and chased them out of the woods. Hunt sabs again rushed between the foxes and the hounds to throw them off track.
The two foxes ran away to safety.
"Much to the annoyance of the hunt, we prevented them from killing three foxes that day," John said. "It's situations like that that show the importance of direct action to stop hunts from killing."
"We may go home tired but we know it was worth it to save the lives of innocent hunted animals."
Manchester Hunt Saboteurs
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