Wildlife conservationists in Britain have leveled their fire at Prince Charles, heir to the throne, as part of their campaign to rid the country of so-called blood sports.
The animal rights advocates reacted with anger after Charles took his 7-year-old son, Harry, on a recent hunt in which two hares were killed.
Charles' niece Zara, daughter of Princess Anne, was also taken to the hunt by her uncle, part of a group of 20 children among the 50 riders. Including children on such a hunt amounts to encouraging them to kill animals, the activists said, focusing most of their anger on Charles.
"All this talk of a compassionate prince is rubbish," said John Bryant, wildlife officer with the League Against Cruel Sports. "I am sure the public will be disgusted. He is carrying on the family tradition of butchering wildlife."
Charles took the two royal youngsters riding with a group from the North Norfolk Harriers near Queen Elizabeth II's Christmas retreat mansion at Sandringham in Norfolk on the North Sea coast.
The hunt master, Ray Bradbury, said the killing of the two animals was inadvertent. "The hares popped up in the middle of the hounds by accident . . . and they were gobbled up," Bradbury said, adding: "It's not the killing we savor, it's the chase."
But animal rights activists such as Marilyn Watson say any sport that allows for the killing of animals is wrong. "This is a horrible way for animals to die," she said. "Prince Charles has no feelings for animals. It makes a nonsense of him claiming he is a conservationist."
Hunting has been a traditional pastime of British monarchs and their families for centuries, dating back to the time before the Norman invasion of 1066, when mounted horsemen chased deer. In recent years, however, the sight of royalty hunting and shooting has become a controversial subject.
Last year at Sandringham, the royal party and their guests shot 12,000 pheasants, and two years ago young Zara Phillips was seen stamping on the head of a wounded pheasant to kill it.
Charles, who has hunted all his adult life, has given his approval to the newly formed Campaign for Hunting, which seeks to justify blood sports, particularly fox hunting, as a way of getting rid of pests that kill farm animals--a position long held by Charles' father, Prince Philip. The organization is campaigning against a bill proposed in Parliament that would ban hunting.
The queen and her family have long been interested in horses and hunting, with Prince Charles only the latest to ride with several established hunts, particularly the Quorn and the Belvoir.
But the prince has not been seen hunting with the Quorn since a spy videotaped members pulling a fox cub from its lair and throwing it to the hounds to be torn apart.
Charles' wife, Princess Diana, is not a regular member of the hunting, shooting and fishing fraternity--preferring such sports as tennis, skiing and swimming.
The hunting of hares--oversized rabbits--is less popular in England than fox hunting, but hare hunting is still a widespread field sport. The hounds used to chase hares are beagles or harriers, slightly smaller than foxhounds.
Another sport, hare coursing, in which greyhounds are raced using live hares as bait, has also been the focus of opposition by anti-blood-sports groups, even though the hares are normally not harmed.
Lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to ban hare coursing. Peter Atkinson of the Fields Sports Assn. responds: "The object is not to kill the hare, but to test the dogs."