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How does hunting affect non-target animals?

Hunting not only affects the target animal that is killed or wounded by a bullet, arrow or knife. It can also have a significant negative impact on other animals, particularly dependent young. If hunters do not find and euthanase the dependent young of shot females, they are left to fend for themselves. Depending on their age, orphaned young can suffer and die from starvation, dehydration or predation. Maternal deprivation is a significant stressor in many species and even if orphaned individuals survive the initial acute stress of lack of nutrition, changes in physiology and behaviour can have a detrimental effect on their growth and development.

With some species it can be very difficult to locate and euthanase dependent young. Rabbit warrens containing kittens and active dens with fox cubs can be some distance from where the female is shot. Even if they are located, it is labour intensive to dig them out. Deer and goats will often hide newly born young until they are mobile and thus are likely to go unnoticed by hunters when the mother is shot. With some species (e.g. deer, pigs) hunters may be aware that there are dependent young but purposely do not euthanase them because they believe they will become future hunting targets. It takes time, effort and patience to locate these animals and euthanase them with humane methods and it is doubtful that all hunters are motivated to do this.

One way to minimise the impact on dependent young is to avoid hunting during known breeding seasons. For example, breeding occurs in a regular season in fallow and red deer, with most fawns/calves being born in November or December. However, with other animals such as feral goats that have no defined breeding season, there is always a risk that some dependent young will be orphaned by hunting.

Adult animals that survive hunting can be affected by experiencing mental stress and disruption to the social structure if they are a species that live in a group. We know hunted populations of deer have significantly greater flight responses than non-hunted populations which suggests that hunting is stressful to the surviving animals.

Hunting with firearms and dogs close to native animals and livestock can also disturb them and cause fear. They can be wounded by stray bullets or injured if they try to flee the area. Hunting dogs that are not adequately trained or controlled, or that escape, could also attack native and farm animals.

The RSPCA opposes recreational hunting, or the act of stalking or pursuing an animal and then killing it for sport, due to the inherent and inevitable pain and suffering caused.

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Updated on August 19, 2019
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