Illegal hare hunts have become an issue in the UK. They are live-streamed for gambling purposes, but MPs hope to bring the practice to an end through new legislation.
The UK has a gambling problem and it has nothing to do with soccer or lotteries. The practice known as hare coursing is finding new life. There has been a surge recently in the livestreaming of the hunts to feed gambling habits out of China.
Criminal gangs are reportedly behind the activity, but British MPs hope to bring the market to an end. New legislation is now making its rounds in Parliament; however, its ultimate effectiveness is not very clear.
Hares Don’t Have a Chance
In hare coursing, the animals find themselves in the typical role of prey being chased by hounds. The practice may still be legal in some areas, including parts of Spain and Ireland, but not in the UK. The country banned it in 2004.
Despite the ban, there has always been an underground market for the hunts in the UK. However, there has been an increase in the activity thanks to the Internet. Now, the hunts are livestreamed and picked up by black market bookmakers around the world. In particular, the Chinese gambling market seems to be the most lucrative.
In order to conduct the courses, criminal gangs need land. So, they break into private properties, trespass on public land and do whatever they have to do to conduct their business. If anyone stands in their way, they threaten them and their families with violence and intimidation.
Illegal hare coursing has blighted rural communities for too long, resulting in criminal damage, threatening violence and intimidation against farmers and landowners,” UK Home Secretary Priti Patel told MPs earlier this year.
The 2004 ban obviously hasn’t been as effective as lawmakers wanted, so they will try a different tactic. Legislation arrived earlier this year that increases the penalties for operating or participating in the courses.
If MPs approve the legislation, hare course organizers can face fines of any amount – there’s no ceiling put in place. A first offense also leads to six months in jail. In addition, violators will have to pay kennel costs after police seize any dogs connected to the activity. Subsequent to a conviction, the individual will receive a lifetime ban against owning or keeping a dog.
Brown hares and mountain hares are the most common targets used in the courses. In part due to the hunts, both species are witnessing dramatic decreases in their numbers. Where once there were over four million brown hares, there are now around 700,000. A recent study conducted by Manchester Metropolitan University and Queen’s University Belfast indicated that there could be as few as 3,500 mountain hares.
However, there are improvements underway. Police across the UK are now cracking down more heavily on illegal hare courses. The Cambridge Independent reported a week ago that the number of hunts is 31% lower, thanks to continued police intervention across the country.
This successful collaboration, together with new legislation hopefully being introduced by the government to tackle hare coursing, will hopefully reduce further incidents of this nature and allow our rural crime teams to concentrate on other issues that affect our rural communities,” states Cambridgeshire Chief Constable Nick Dean.
Operation Galileo is a nationwide initiative that hopes to eradicate hare coursing completely. The hunts typically begin in September after farmers harvest their fields, so police know when and where to start looking. The new national penalties should help their efforts, even though criminals will always be criminals.