Magazine article The Spectator

Mad about Foxes

Magazine article The Spectator

Mad about Foxes

Article excerpt

Termites who laid waste to religious houses in 18th-century Brazil could expect more merciful treatment than a visit from the Rentokil man. In Maranhao in 1709, a group of the insects accused of damaging a Franciscan monastery were tried in court and defended most eloquently by a lawyer who argued, successfully, that they were the original owners of the land. The court's judgment, exonerating them of blame, was then read aloud to the termite hills.

Until recently, such stories - which were far from uncommon in mediaeval Europe tended to be treated with ridicule. Indeed, a fuller account of the termite story can be found in the 1976 edition of the Reader's Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts, under the heading `Strange Customs and Superstitions'. Yet, as Peter Day of Dartford discovered to his cost earlier this week, it no longer does to challenge a beast's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Hearing screams from his living room, Mr Day rushed in to find his 14-week-old baby son, Louis, being attacked by a fox. The animal had dug its teeth into the baby's temple and forehead, and was in the process of dragging him outside to devour him. Happily, Louis survived. Unhappily, Mr Day made the mistake of ringing the RSPCA's `emergency helpline', hoping that the charity would dispatch one of its vans to Dartford to capture the animal.

Instead, the RSPCA poured scorn upon his story, denying that a fox could possibly be responsible - although there are documented cases of similar incidents. Then, when Mr Day suggested he might undertake to kill the animal himself, he was threatened with prosecution for cruelty to animals. Were it a one-off case of an overenthusiastic RSPCA officer, it might deserve little comment; but the story is part of an increasing pattern of behaviour in Western society. We are becoming overtaken by a philosophy which puts the rights of animals above those of humans.

Last week, these pages carried a story by Aidan Hartley about Dr Jane Goodall, who campaigns for animals to be granted equal rights as humans, yet will do anything to save her adopted chimp, Frodo, suffering punishment for having killed a baby in a national park in Tanzania. There was the case, too, last July, of Jessie Arbogast, a boy who had his arm torn off by a shark while swimming off the coast of Florida. The boy's uncle killed the shark and retrieved the severed arm, only to be apprehended by the stern words of the New York Times, accusing him of a 'disproportionate' response.

In this country, the continuing crusade to ban hunting is even distracting from the true extent of Labour's obsession with human rights. …

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