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Boxing Day fox hunts in Britain draw crowds

12/27/2006

LONDON (AP) — More than 300,000 people thronged the British
countryside Tuesday for the annual Boxing Day fox hunts, organizers
said, two years after Parliament passed a law banning traditional
fox hunting in which dogs chase and kill the prey.

Fox hunting, which dates back centuries in Britain, historically
involved groups of riders following a pack of hounds trained to
track down and kill foxes. The new law restricting the use of dogs
in hunts was passed after a bitter fight in Parliament and raucous
street demonstrations.

The Countryside Alliance, a group that represents hunting
enthusiasts, said more than 300,000 people took part in more than
300 legal hunts across Britain on Tuesday, the day of the
traditional post-Christmas hunt.

``We think we've had a record turnout this year,'' Alliance
spokeswoman Charlotte Fiander said. ``We were expecting a big
turnout as there is a lot of support for hunting across the
country.''

Supporters say fox hunting is a vital rural tradition and an
important way of controlling predators. Opponents consider it
cruel, unnecessary and a preserve of the upper classes.

Under the Hunting Act, which took effect in February 2005, dogs
can be used to locate a fox and drive it into open ground, but not
to harm the animal, which is shot instead.

Many hunts have since been reformed into trail or drag hunting,
in which dogs track an animal scent that has been artificially laid
out through the woods in advance.

The anti-hunting group League Against Cruel Sports said it had
no objection to the hunts, provided they were held within the
limits of the law. In a statement, the group said it had created
its own watchdog unit to help crack down on illegal hunting.