A fox hunt which counts the Tory Animal Welfare Minister among its members has killed up to 25 hounds following a suspected bovine TB outbreak.
The Kimblewick Hunt, to which Lord Gardiner of Kimble belongs, culled the dogs and implemented biosecurity measures to prevent the disease spreading.
Hunt officials said “it is most likely that the hounds contracted it from eating meat from a contaminated bovine”.
Another 120 hounds are being monitored for symptoms.
It is thought to be the biggest ever potential outbreak of bTB among dogs in Britain.
Kimblewick, which has its kennels in Aylesbury, Bucks., has abandoned hunting with its own dogs for the rest of the season.
But it has been carrying on legal hunting activities with hounds from other hunts.
Hunting with dogs was banned in 2005 but hunts still legally carry out trail hunting where hounds follow an artificially laid scent.
Critics say they often lead to the “accidental” deaths of foxes as hounds pick up a genuine scent and flush out a live animal.
While bTB is usually linked to cattle and badgers, infections have also been found in other animals including sheep, goats, horses, pigs, deer, dogs and cats.
The revelation is a major blow to the Kimblewick, which boasts the top Government minister among its ranks.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) last July.
He was chairman of Kimblewick’s predecessor hunt, the Vale of Aylesbury with Garth and South Berks, from 1992 to 2006.
According to the Kimblewick Hunt’s website, “the Hunt was formed in 2002 by the amalgamation of the Vale of Aylesbury with the Garth and South Berks”.
It was renamed The Kimblewick Hunt in 2010 and Lord Gardiner’s parliamentary register of interests lists him as an “Honorary Member”.
The peer is a former deputy chief executive of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance and he was Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard from 2015-16.
He served as private secretary to five successive Tory Party chairmen between 1989 and 1995, under Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
The Kimblewick Hunt covers a wide area of the Home Counties, including Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire.
At least one biosecurity sign has been spotted at the entrance to the kennels.
A spokeswoman for the Animal and Plant Health Agency, part of Defra, said: “The bacterium that causes bovine TB in cattle has been found in dogs at a kennel in Buckinghamshire.
“The origin and route of this infection is being investigated.”
She added: “Dogs are not considered to play a significant role in onward transmission of bovine TB.”
The Hunt said the first signs of bTB came late last year and it immediately alerted Defra.
It said in a statement: “We are waiting for Animal and Plant Health Agency’s epidemiology report that might give details of the source of infection, however it would appear that it is most likely that the hounds contracted it from eating meat from a contaminated bovine.”
It added: “There has been no contact with other packs of hounds since the initial case was suspected, and a monitoring and testing protocol has been rolled out across the country.
“The Kimblewick Hunt has been working alongside Defra, Animal and Plant Health Agency, Public Health England and the Masters of Foxhounds Association in order to ensure that bTB has been contained.
“No other cases have been reported.
“Testing continues on the Kimblewick hounds in line with advice given from veterinary and scientific experts during this very difficult time for the hunt staff and their families.”
A Hounds Off spokesman said: “With the link between the Kimblewick Hunt hounds and bovine tuberculosis now confirmed, Hounds Off calls for the immediate blanket suspension of all hunting by all packs of hounds pending further investigations and enquiries.”
Source : Daily Mirror