Coursing conundrum

By EcoEvo@TCD • Perspectives • 15 Feb 2013


At first glance, many scientific ideas can appear counterintuitive. A press release from a leading Irish wildlife charity in support of the proposed coursing ban prompted me to attempt to balance the discussion of coursing impacts on the Irish hare population. The bill to ban coursing is due to come before the Dáil in the coming months. However, the above press release immediately struck me as biased, and so I felt a discussion of coursing impacts was required before the public were asked to sign any petitions in support of this ban. For those unsure of just what coursing is, it is a popular field sport which consists of a hare being chased by a pair of greyhounds over a short distance. Unlike fox and deer hunting, the aim of coursing is not to kill the hare. It is instead a speed and agility competition between two dogs, where each is awarded points depending on its ability to “turn” the hare from a direct route along the field. Irish hares (Lepus timidus hibernicus Bell 1837) are caught and held in captivity prior to an event during which the hare is coursed within an enclosed park. A running hare is given a 75m head start before the release of two dogs, whose performance is assessed by a judge, and surviving hares escape into an area from which the dogs are excluded. The duration of the pursuit is relatively brief, usually lasting less than a minute, and surviving hares are returned to the wild after the event.

The IWT states something which a few of us may agree with; that Ireland is lagging behind in terms of its attitude to welfare and conservation of native wildlife. However, the idea that a coursing ban would in some way improve this status is highly questionable. Welfare issues need to be taken into account, but these considerations must be viewed in parallel with the beneficial aspects of coursing, such as habitat conservation and the associated protection of both target and non-target species, before any final judgements regarding coursing acceptability can be made. It is perhaps unintuitive, but evidence indicates that coursing has an extremely large positive impact on hare numbers. Mortality of coursed hares stands at just 4.1% since the implementation of dog muzzling in 1993, and research has found coursing to have negligible impacts on hare populations due their large intrinsic rates of increase. People who participate in coursing maximise hare populations in coursing preserves through predator control and set aside to conserve habitat suited to the Irish hare. In fact, it is agricultural intensification (an issue completely ignored in the IWT article) which is more likely to blame for population declines. Habitat management to encourage target species for hunting can protect against the detrimental effects of modern agricultural policy on biodiversity. Irish Coursing Club preserves host a hare density 3 times greater than that supported by the wider countryside. What is more probable is that coursing is actually stemming the tide of anthropogenic destruction of many species our native wildlife (including corncrakes and many other farmland bird species) through habitat conservation aimed at artificially increasing hare populations for coursing. If coursing were to be banned in this country, this practice would be completely abandoned due to waning interest in encouraging hare numbers, and could potentially have serious ramifications for other wildlife which benefit from associated habitat management and predator control. Incentives to promote hare conservation would be required, but it’s questionable whether these would produce the same results as coursing-associated management due to a lack of personal interest for farmers and other landowners who practice coursing. Hare conservation in the absence of coursing, similar to that of other species benefiting from game management, would be a costly endeavour and would be unlikely to be awarded the necessary funding in the Republic of Ireland with the current economic climate.

We have the opportunity to be forward-thinking, innovative and inclusive in the way in which we achieve sustainable conservation of our native wildlife, something which appears all the more important in light of the EU agricultural policy reforms which were leaked in recent days. We can only hope that a review of the research will stop the Dáil bowing to ill-informed political pressure and perhaps, the future of farmland birds and our only endemic mammal, the Irish hare, will be ensured.


Emma Murphy: butlere1[at]

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18 Responses

  1. ger fitz

    just look at how the Irish red Grouse population imploded when organised shoots stopped, along with the conservation work they had been doing on the grouse moors.

  2. Seán Kelly

    Great piece and some very interesting points. I think people too easily forget where the conservation movement began – with hunters and gamekeepers. Working alongside and with them is essential if we want to move forward

  3. The IWT considers the practice of hare coursing to be cruel and barbaric and believes it has no place in the twenty first century.
    As I’m sure you are aware Ireland unlike many other Island nations of its size has a paucity of fauna which we could label as truly endemic or even native for that matter. This should, we believe, afford the Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) a special place in the Irish psyche and in our conservation legislation. Instead we have the bizarre contradiction where we as an Irish conservation group have to justify our opposition to the persecution of an internationally protected speices (Annex III species under the Bern convention and Annex IV of the Habitats Directive).

    The IWT would disagree that hare coursing is a ‘popular sport’ as you put it. We would consider it to be far removed from any of the values one would commonly associate with sport and would prefer to label it what it is – a cruel practice that should be consigned to the bygone age that it belongs. The fact that coursing has been banned in Northern Ireland in 2010, Scotland in 2002
    and in England and Wales in 2005 might undermine the assertion of its popularity.
    We fully support people enjoying the countryside and exercising their dogs however a person and their dogs enjoyment should not be at the expense of other people or our native wildlife.
    The fact that the hare isn’t dismembered is positive from a conservation and animal welfare point of view however we should be capable of taking that extra quantum leap and removing the part were the hare is harassed at all. The fact that the hare does not die immediately due to the fact that the dogs are muzzled does not mean that the hare may not sustain serious injuries which, when returned to the wild, may consign it to a slow death.

    We recognise that habitat loss and agricultural intensification over the preceding decades are the main cause of the historical decrease in hare numbers. We are fully aware of studies from Northern Ireland and elsewhere that found that parts of the countryside that are specifically managed for hares actually have higher hare numbers compared to the rest of the countryside at large. Hare numbers are higher in these areas due to favorable management regimes which we would agree with, however the persecution of native carnivores such as foxes to artificially increase the hare population is something we cannot support. From a conservation point of view persecuting a group of native species to increase the numbers of another so it can in turn be harassed for the enjoyment of a small portion of society has no merit. The study in Northern Ireland did not also take into account the fact that quite often after coursing events, hares captured outside these reserves are often not released back to their point of origin,but instead are released into these designated hare reserves, due to the absence of a tag and release system. This too would artificially bulk up hare numbers in hare reserves at the expense of populations in other areas.
    We would hope for an increase in the lands designated for the protection of native wildlife and the increased implementation of policies that would be favorable to not only the hare but all of our native species.

    • Emma Murphy

      Thank you for your feedback Fintan, these issues need to be discussed and debated. It is a very difficult issue, and I would like to note that part of the reason I decided to pen the article in the first place is because I would have described myself as anti-coursing before undertaking this bit of research. Welfare issues are of the utmost importance, and indeed should be considered fully and independently in relation to the ban. I merely wished to highlight the other issues of habitat conservation and associated species protection which must also be considered with regard to coursing impacts. I personally agree that the Irish hare should of course hold a special place in our minds. From my reading, coursing may not necessarily be detrimental to this. It is well known that many hunters hold their target species in extremely high regard. However, such emotive considerations are unhelpful in a scientific discussion of coursing impacts in relation to conservation.

      In an ideal world, of course we would have the requisite public and financial support for habitat and species conservation to facilitate the banning of coursing without concerns in relation to habitat destruction. We are not quite at that ideal stage yet in my opinion, and the support, and indeed, the species specific knowledge of gamekeepers can be invaluable to conservation efforts. My use of the word “popular” was in reference to the c. 35,000 attendance at the National Meet in Clonmel, a substantial number of followers of the sport. It is my understanding that illegal (and I might add, unregulated and unmuzzled) coursing continues to be a problem in the UK, and there were fears expressed in the Burns Inquiry (2000) that post-ban, some farmers would even remove hares from their land in efforts to prevent such illegal practice taking place.

      In relation to your point on the release of coursed hares into ICC preserves away from the location of origin, again, it is my understanding that the majority of hares for coursing are taken through organised beats taking place in ICC preserves. Indeed, that is the function and role of the ICC preserves; to provide a continuous supply of hares for coursing.

      Policy and designated SACs and SPAs are of course the preferred and ideal way forward for conservation. It is my feeling that, at this point in time, public support for designating funds for the setting up, maintaining and monitoring of reserves is at a low and, as observed with the proposed EU agricultural policy, environmental activities are often the first to be sidelined. Any pursuit which promotes conservation and management of habitat suited to hares and farmland birds, not just in designated SACs but throughout our countryside, is something which should not be considered lightly. It is this point which I hoped to express in the article.

  4. Paul Fallon

    So hare coursing is now a fully recognised part of the ecosystem. The hare population exists as it does due to the actions of the coursing contingent. And if we remove coursing it will result in a part collapse of this finely balanced ecosystem. In fact entire habitats and species populations are thanks to these interest groups. We should be grateful to gamekeepers and farmers in receipt of grants for our countryside. Really? This is where we’re at?

    Anyway I’m not convinced by this whole farmers and gamekeepers as ‘guardians of the countryside’. If gamekeepers and farmers are not willing to appreciate our natural heritage as it is, let them ‘neglect’ our countryside. I’d rather a new natural equilibrium was reached which was not based on their reductive, selfish interests. I’d rather we didn’t feel obliged to be grateful to them. Imagine kiwis were hunted in New Zealand. Do you think the natives would cheer on the greyhounds mauling the kiwis, because it’s thanks to those coursing folk we have a few thousand more kiwis?

    I think we are being led down a certain garden path with this fallacy, the lesser of two evils i.e. allow some cruelty to our heritage for a better environment . Make no mistake nature balances itself out. And there are plenty of decent people and farmers who will maintain the countryside for its own sake. It is seeing our native wildlife as an end in itself rather a means to an end.

    re 35, 000 at a hunt, that makes a few million who didn’t attend.

  5. Conn Flynn

    Very well said Paul Fallon!

  6. Eoin Murphy

    Very good article Emma.

    It’s hard for people to approach an emotive subject like this from a rational point of view, especially when many don’t live in rural communities and don’t understand the cultural heritage which hare coursing is a part of. Most imagine the image of a furry hare being torn apart by two dogs when they think of hare coursing, but the reality couldn’t be further from this with the large majority of hares (95.9% going by the figure provided above) escaping unharmed. These hares which escape have been fed well and also attended to by a vet. So, not only does the sport provide a social outlet for people, but also serves as a vehicle for improvement in monitoring and management of the health of hare populations.

    I think it is also important to consider the greyhound. The greyhound was specifically bred over the ages for speed and agility. People who own and breed greyhounds take great pride in their animals and care and tend to them (admittedly not in all cases) as if they were their own children. It is good to marvel at nature and see the animals in action in a semi-natural setting, with safe-guards in place to attenuate the possiblity of death for the hare. Some greyhounds make great racing dogs, when some make great coursing dogs where agility and strength is paramount. What a coursing meet provides is a social arena for people to showcase their dogs which they have cared for and groomed to be the best they can be. Take hare coursing away and you take this away from people. This is important for those which oppose it to understand, as this is what angers a lot on both sides is a lack of understanding. On the side which wants to ban coursing they don’t see this side, and instead just see a cruel, barbaric sport where animals are tortured for people’s sadistic enjoyment. On the pro-coursing side they see this deep-seated love of their animals and their passion for a sport, which they derive so much pride and enjoyment from, being abused. No one wants to see the hare injured or dying, and no one takes any sadistic enjoyment from seeing this happen. If I was to take videos of every illegal tackle, every eye-gouge, every stapping or punching incident in rugby and show it to someone who had never experienced the sport, they would say that it is a barbaric sport which has no place in modern-day society. Although, I’m sure that there would be many who would vehemently oppose this. When we watch rugby, we marvel at the agility, speed, strength and prowess of the human players. When spectators watch hare coursing they marvel at the same things in the relevant protagonists: the greyhounds and also the hare.

    I myself was always very much against hare coursing until I opened my mind to the benefits the sport brings to the hare population and their overall health, and also the social benefits it affords rural communities. I believe it is much better to have hare coursing legal and well regulated like it currently is, than to have it banned and driven underground where undoubtably it would be. The IWT should be working with the Irish Coursing Club to address their concerns in regards to foxes. This would require an understanding of both sides of the argument and probably won’t ever happen if one side denies that the other should exist at all (one could demonstrate many conflicts which arise on a global level with this train of thought). In addition to this, I think if it was deemed necessary to ban the sport then people should be offered a reasonable alternative to showcase their dogs’ defining attributes. To ignore this need is to ignore at least 35000 people’s passion, love and respect for not only the greyhound but also for the cunning hare which in 95.9% of cases out-smarts two significantly bigger pursuers.

    Aside: I would love to attend the annual meet in Clonmel, although I don’t like to be labelled as a barbaric person and for people to misinterpret my love for nature as something more sinister.

    • Emma Murphy

      Thanks for your excellent reply Eoin, and the eloquent description of admiration for the “cunning hare which…out-smarts two significantly bigger pursuers”. You’ve hit on a couple of very important points. The rugby analogy perfectly illustrates how easy it is to “cherry-pick” video footage of those undesirable coursing outcomes and portray them as the standard for any coursing event. The exclusive sharing of this content with no reference to the frequency at which such outcomes occur could be termed propaganda. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, you highlight the need for both sides of the debate to work together and try to reach a conclusion most agreeable to all, whether that be through improved management, welfare standards or otherwise. Dialogue is paramount, and as you correctly say, one side should not deny that the other should exist at all. It is not a black and white issue. Both sides have their merits, and as such, both should be treated respectfully. Labelling an individual “barbaric” is unhelpful and shows a glaring lack of diplomacy. Only through the sharing and processing of knowledge can any informed conclusion be made. That is all one wishes any individual’s opinion on coursing to be, fully informed.

      Aside: I would just like to add that we are not related and do not know each other at all!

  7. Christopher Mulvey

    I was delighted that an article such as this was published; an example of conservation that both reflects the roots of modern conservation and through human interaction is a sustainable form of conservation. Anyone with experience in conservation will tell you that interaction and cooperation with local people surrounding your target population is key, in this case it is the hare coursers.

    On the subject of hare coursing I completely agree with Emma. It is self-sustainable due to the sport surrounding it and it has similarities with some of the first conservation projects carried out by men. Now, I know what Paul and Fintan are likely to say here, which is that it was done barbarically and that the reason such “rough” conservation worked previously was that less damage had been done to the environment and that species on the brink of collapse nowadays require a much more graceful approach, but if you ask anyone who studied evolution why some of the ancient “barbaric” looking species, such as the horseshoe crab still survive today, they will tell you because they were successful just as they are, their body plan worked and never had to change. You can disagree with that, but if you do it may be worth having a read of Survivors – by Richard Fortey.

    Of course another interesting connection to the subject of evolution is that hares are evolutionary adapted to short pursuits, this is likely part of the reason why there is such a high percentage that escape unscathed in coursing events, in other words, they’re well capable.

    In Wildlife Ecology and Management – by Caughley and Sinclair (a well renowned book that despite its age has never been replaced by newer texts on the subject) there is an interesting introduction to the chapter on Wildlife Harvesting that I feel relates to this subject. It discusses how despite one’s personal opinion on how appropriate it is to have a sport surrounding wildlife that there is one ethical aspect that is fundamental, that is: that the operation, be it for recreation or for profit, must result in a sustainable off take, a yield that can be taken year after year without jeopardizing future yields. I feel that it is important to mention this as conservation (whether you like the sound of it or not) is a form of wildlife management. In the case of the hare the off take is close to nothing since the introduction of the muzzle. The hare and the examples of animals managed in this book are both provided with safe areas rich in food and protected from human interactions that are likely to be damaging to their numbers, such as the intensification of agriculture. I guess my point is that the practice of hair coursing falls under the ethical management principles of this well respected text, and personally I feel that without anyone getting over-emotionally involved they would find it very hard to argue with the two scientists who wrote it.

    Look, my whole point to this reply is that I agree with Emma that often cases such as this are counterintuitive. The organization which has decided to march on the Dail with this obviously has not properly inspected the research carried out by one of Ireland’s top mammal researchers, and I believe Emma’s point is not to put them down but maybe to say – Look again! Whether you look at this sport and see conservation at work as it was in the time of Aldo Leopold (the father of wildlife and conservation) or whether you cannot help but look away, you cannot argue with the results.

    I worry that to put an end to this sport might be, as James Martin puts it in his book The Meaning of the 21st Century, a Greek tragedy. This idea is that the damage done to the environment isn’t because of individuals and organizations with evil intent, it has happens because mankind were caught up in a Greek tragedy (where the hero believing that his actions are righteous will actually lead to disastrous consequences). It is man’s miscalculation of reality that brings about the tragedy.

  8. Paul Fallon

    I understand coursing is an enjoyable outdoor pursuit. I can see the attraction of being out with your hounds, handling wild hares and the competitive excitement of the chase. I know it is a way of life for some people.
    Let’s be honest here, it is an emotional, visceral, social experience for these people. It is not logical or rational. It is pure thrill. So that argument works both ways. It is not the anti-coursing lobby who are excitable and emotional.

    As regard cold, hard empirical hare data I would like you to supply references to fieldwork supporting your point that coursing clubs are the modern conservationist who monitor and support our hare population and as a by-product other habitats. Also point out the methodologies and frequency of monitoring which claims there is only a 5% mortality rate. This needs to be critically reviewed. I look forward to it.

    “Irish hares are 18 times more abundant in areas managed by the Irish Coursing Club than at similar sites in the wider countryside”. This is the ‘yield’ or ‘Wildlife Harvest’ mentioned above. Obviously the numbers of hares around a coursing club are huge, they are released into the locality after being farmed, tagged, sprayed and dosed for coursing! If this is the skewed auditing which points to hare preservation, forget it. This is not indicative of a conservation programme. How about wondering at all the salmon in the salmon farms. Elsewhere hare numbers are significantly but sustainably lower but do not rely on an extrinsic farmed-for-sport factor. Again, I repeat, coursing clubs and gamekeepers are not the guardians of the countryside and we should not feel grateful to them for bloated localised populations of hares.
    There is no real counterintuitive conservation going on.

    Talk of shrill, squemish townfolk just not getting rural life is a smokescreen to create an artificial binary type discourse, to diminish criticisms of certain rural pursuits. I don’t buy it. It’s lazy. For the record I live in rural Ireland. The hunt and coursing clubs do not maintain our countryside.

    As regards wondering at the agility and speed of hares, I get to marvel at hares each spring. They enter the garden at dawn, feed, preen, lop around and shoot off when they are disturbed. They are an amazing and beautiful animal which are best seen in their natural habitat. I respect and admire them from a distance. They are our unique wildlife. The hares I see are not part of any game preserve. If I knew the hares I get to watch were to be caught, farmed, sprayed and coursed I would be sickened. Placing them on a racecourse in front of 35,000 people is a vulgar, obscene treatment of our heritage and is not the place to wonder at this animal. Go out, see them living naturally in their own backyard if you want to admire them. Not reduced to being the main attraction with a chip van and Mr whippy outside.

    babybathwater Greek tragedy principles

    • Emma Murphy

      Dear Mr. Fallon, both sides can be extremely passionate about their cause; this is why I felt a detached discussion of peer reviewed literature would be beneficial to this debate. It’s not about pro or anti-coursing, it’s about all the information on this issue.

      You evidently didn’t take the time to fully read and digest the peer-reviewed literature referenced in the article above. The methodologies are there to be seen, and include analysis of video footage of annual meets at Clonmel. If these are deemed unsatisfactory, then a taxpayer funded monitoring scheme needs to be put in place to gather data before any decision on coursing impacts is made. One cannot claim that something should be banned because one is unsatisfied with peer-reviewed scientific research. If that is the case, then additional satisfactory data must be obtained before one can claim to know the entire story and make an informed decision on coursing.

      Accounting for habitat differences, hares are 3 times more abundant in coursing preserves. This is the result used in the above article and by the scientists who carried out the research. They do not use skewed results; I would appreciate if you also refrained from such bad practice. Please provide additional information and elaborate in relation to hares being “farmed, tagged, sprayed and dosed”. Please provide references, I would be interested to research such things. I might add that Acta Theriologica and Animal Welfare are both highly respected scientific journals with a rigorous peer-review process. “Skewed auditing” would have no place in these publications. One does not claim that coursing is a conservation programme; it is a form of wildlife management which, as Mr. Mulvey points out, conforms to the sustainable off-take principles of wildlife harvesting. I am certainly not recommending that one be “grateful” to the coursing community. However, one cannot deny the positive influence they have on hare numbers. If one wishes to dispute the results of peer-reviewed scientific research, one must be willing the replicate such research before they can dispute the veracity of the findings.

      As I have previously mentioned, it is not a black and white, rural vs. urban issue. Dialogue between the welfare groups, the coursing community and scientists is required in this debate. I also live in rural Ireland, and have not once stated that coursing clubs maintain our countryside. However, one must not be blind to the habitat management carried out be members of the coursing community which benefits hares and other species suited to such habitat.

      I have also frequently admired hares from my sitting room window, please do not attempt to use such personal opinions in a scientific debate. You are entitled to your opinion, as are we all, but one cannot force one’s personal, anthropomorphised affinity for the hare onto others. This is why a logical, emotionally restrained, research driven debate is vital to the coursing issue.

      Aside, I would like to say that I find your confrontational and emotive style of writing to be insulting, and it has no place on a scientific forum attempting to discuss the coursing issue from a research-led perspective. Many personal opinions exist on this issue, this is a place for discussion and discourse on the scientific facts.

      • Paul Fallon

        I am somewhat stunned by your response. You have not only presented research papers, you have taken a stance which is in itself not clinically scientific when assessed.

        I am not saying the reports are skewed. I am not saying the methodologies are skewed. I do not question the peer-reviewed nature of these papers. I am saying that a certain polemic can be grandstanded from such analytical papers, from stats and figures. It is a polemic which elevates reason over emotion, when both should be interlinked. The results from research opens debate.

        How we experience hares should have a place on this discussion, along with peer reviewed field studies. Hare-coursers experience hares in an extremely emotional way. Their lifestyle and emotion are at the core of this debate and research, as much as the number of hares in a field.

        Similarly dismissing my stance as an anthropomorphised argument is predicatble and frustrating in the extreme. I really do not want to hear that nonsense and would expect better.

        Again, to say that emotion and open debate has no place on a scientific forum is dismissive. In fact it is something a contributor which you lauded is guilty of. The analogy of rugby with coursing is an example of an extremely poor metaphor as they are not in fact analagous at all, only in one capacity. That is not science! Keep analogies clean, poor logic! But actually we can run with it because it helps our general understanding of an argument, up to a point.

        With reference to “farmed, tagged, sprayed and dosed” you don’t have to look very far….

        • Emma Murphy

          At the end of my article, I came to a conclusion based upon and supported by scientific research published in peer-reviewed literature. If one uses the same form of research to support a different opinion, I respect that in its entirety.

          The rugby analogy is not mine, I did however find it useful in this case.

          Thank you for the link, I now understand your reference to the dosing of hares with antihelminthic drugs (worming medication) and spraying to prevent foot related disease.

          Again, there are intense emotions on both sides, and in my opinion, the only way for two opposing opinions to be reconciled is through calm, informed discussion and reasoning with the aid of scientific research to back up claims.

  9. Paul Fallon

    …bit of unedited garble at the end there I never got to waffling about….

  10. Paul Fallon

    Apologies, I didn’t see the link to references. The emphasis in this report is on numbers. It emphasises the hare rich population around coursing clubs.

    The figures are spectacular – 99.9 hares/km2 near coursing clubs
    compared to 5.6 hares/km2 throughout the wider countryside. Did I read that right? Correct me if not.
    This report indicates hares are literally farmed, such is the discrepancy in numbers! Is this is the counterintuitive high-yield, conservation hypothesis?! This is the science? I am stunned! From an evolutionary point of view cows are the most successful species on the planet. Is that the hare’s future? 5.6 hares per km2 is perfectly sustainable and healthy and ultimately authentic.

    From the report….

    ‘Whilst we cannot rule out the role of habitat,
    our results suggest that hare numbers are maintained
    at high levels on Irish Coursing Club preserves
    either because clubs select areas of high
    hare density and subsequently have a negligible
    impact on hare numbers or actively manage
    hare populations and have a positive effect on
    numbers. Should the legal status of coursing be
    altered on animal welfare grounds without concessions
    for its potential affect on species and
    habitat conservation, additional public funds
    may be required to increase subsidies for conservation
    on private land together with a strengthened
    capacity to enforce legislation (Oldfield et
    al. 2003).
    Acknowledgements: We are grateful to the Irish Coursing
    Club for their cooperation, specifically, the East Donegal
    Coursing Club for their collaboration and assistance in the
    field.’…Honestly, I’m not convinced.

    Your reference to the report on mortality through muzzling is more interesting and throws up interesting points vis a vis population and health in populations.,134064,en.pdf

    So.. are hares for farming and sport or to be accepted and respected as an end in themselves and authentically pure wild mammal? What’s our philosophy here?

    i would counter that the Irish hare, does not, these reports suggest, need coursing.

  11. Hi Eoin,
    Thanks for the heads up on the IWT Facebook page. I suppose like any other aspects of life nothing is black and white but rather subtle shades of grey. As Shakespeare said “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I believe both sides of the argument have valid points to make and hopefully through open debates like this we can move toward some sort of consensus.
    Firstly I’d like to take this opportunity to address something that has bothered me for as long as I can remember. I’m born and bred in a rural community on the banks of the river Shannon. In no way do these sort of activities represent me, my family or the vast majority of people in my community. Personally I can only speak for myself as I don’t have the mandate to speak on behalf of every person from a rural background or any other background for that matter.
    I agree this is an emotive issue and as such any discussion about it will reflect any particular individuals personal feelings and values. I find a lot of these pro coursing comments contain a condescending thread and talk about thinking logically and totally removing oneself from any emotions that one might feel toward what they identify as an emotive issue. I think this is a bit of a contradiction especially when a lot of people who are pro-coursing are so because of the enjoyment they derive from the activity. I think to debate any issue that has a welfare or moral aspect to it without emotion does a disservice to our own humanity. I’d like you to note that a poster on one of these earlier hare coursing threads has images of hounds chasing hares without muzzles. I think its fair to assume this is not an isolated incident. Not having any experience in hare coursing I would be interesting to know more about the 4.1% of hares that are indeed harmed. I think we should have all the facts on the table if we are going to really debate this from an animal welfare point of view. I would like to point out that animal welfare should include more than just the physical harm which the animals suffer. Any person who has worked in mammal population studies would know about the stress that being trapped has on wild animals. Many smaller mammals regularly die from the stress of capture alone. These are wild animals and should not be handled at all by people. This is why people have to apply for a licence from the NPWS to handle many animals in this country. I don’t think I could comprehend the stress involved in being captured, caged thrown in the back of a vehicle and driven to some arena where a crowd cheer as an two animals many times my size run me down with only a wire mesh standing between me and my jaws. In all seriousness I think the only comparison I could draw would be something like a slave in roman times being thrown into the Colosseum with two lions.
    I don’t think your comparison with rugby is valid. Anyone who partakes in rugby does so on there own volition. Hares have no choice. As someone who has played rugby I don’t think if the prospect of being put out of my misery by a doctor was part of the package I would have signed up. I’f you see comparisons between coursing and the agility, speed, strength and prowess on show in rugby then I think people should watch more rugby and hound less hares. That would end the debate. As I’ve said before this isn’t the only way people can appreciate the speed and agility of greyhounds. They can go to greyhound races or join their local dog agility club.
    I think my previous post highlights how I feel about the completely unnatural situation where one animal is essentially farmed and another persecuted. It’s not a natural situation and while compromises have to be made by conservation groups to ensure that as much land as possible is managed in a wildlife friendly manner I don’t think hare coursing is one of those compromises. I’f farmers and private landowners appreciate the hare in and of itself as many claim then they would continue to carry out practices that will ensure the survival of the species on their holdings. If they only appreciate it for the pleasure they derive from its exploitation well this is a sad situation but not totally surprising unfortunately.

    • Emma Murphy

      Hi Fintan, just a short note and a thank you for the polite post. I would just like to say that I agree fully that welfare issues are what need to be discussed at this point, including all forms of physical harm and stress. For example, there are a couple of interesting papers by Paci et al. (2006 and 2012) which deal with stress experienced by brown hares captured for translocation (and possible ways to reduce this). A wealth of information is out there and, absolutely, all the facts need to laid on the table if we are going to really debate this.

      I also wish to sincerely apologise to Mr. Fallon for my comment on anthropomorphism. One can admire something for its own beauty without anthropomorphism being a factor, and that comment should not have been made.

      This issue can be argued from many stand points, I personally would hope that any individuals would endeavour to be in possession of all the facts before forming an opinion, whatever their final conclusion might be.

  12. John Burke

    Please join calls to support Limerick Racecourse for the sake of the Irish Hare:

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