Caged fox cubs are returned to wild

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THE FOX cubs were three months old, terrified and in pain. Their ears had been mutilated, they were hungry and bedraggled and imprisoned in a tiny cage where they could barely stand up on the floor of mud.

The discovery of the cubs in a baited trap on land owned by the Sinnington Hunt, Yorkshire, was publicised by The Independent and led to an outcry. There were investigations by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Masters of Foxhounds Association into the first photographic proof that foxes were being captured for hunting, negating the argument of blood-sport enthusiasts that hunting was a form of keeping down wild vermin.

After the rescue of the cubs the RSPCA and other bodies received dozens of offers of temporary homes for them and suggestions of where they could be released without the danger of being killed by a hunt. Now The Independent can reveal that, after a period of recuperation, the cubs have been successfully released back into the wild.

After treatment they were taken to an animal sanctuary in Oxfordshire, one of a network used by animal welfare agencies. The locations are not publicised because of fear of intimidation by blood-sport supporters. In this case there was the additional factor that the cubs comprised possible evidence on animal-cruelty charges.

The sanctuary is run by Penny Little, a long-time animal welfare activist. She said: "The most striking thing about these two poor little cubs was how frightened and traumatised they were.

"Fox cubs are normally the most playful and most inquisitive of creatures. But these two were very frightened of people. At the beginning, whenever someone went into their pen, they literally soiled themselves out of fright. They had the look in their eyes you see sometimes in dogs which have been beaten or ill-treated by their owners.

"The other dreadful thing was that both had one of their ears sliced off. It had been done in a very rough and ready way and not treated afterwards. You can imagine the pain of that being done. I presume the reason for this was to identify the cubs after they were killed.

"One of the cubs would spend his time hiding under a pile of logs; the other one was a bit more confident. But after a while we could hear them playing during the night and their health recovered."

Now the two cubs have been released after a period of acclimatisation in the autumn. Ms Little said: "I gather they have adjusted well after being free in the wild. I simply can't understand how anyone could get any pleasure out of tormenting such little cubs."

The RSPCA eventually dropped the case against the Sinnington because it could not prove it was directly involved in the trapping.