ANIMAL protection officers have launched a wave of raids targeting Scots hunting foxes, badgers and deer with dogs.
A Sunday Post investigation found social media pages on which hunters post pictures of themselves with their dogs and animals they have killed.
Raids in Fife earlier this month, following an 18-month investigation, saw 10 dogs seized from a disused farm building.
In recent weeks, 39 dogs linked to illegal hunting, some with horrific injuries, have been confiscated.
One small terrier dog was left blinded after prolonged periods underground hunting animals.
The breeds include terriers and an American pit bull believed to have been used to breed animal-hunting dogs.
Three men are expected to face legal action.
Meanwhile, officers from the SSPCA animal welfare charity last week visited the home of a Port Glasgow man where they seized a dog.
He is a member of a Facebook closed group called Running Dogs, Digging Dogs. Its home page warns “no coppers or antis are allowed”, adding: “If you don’t like what you see or read please don’t look.”
His personal social media page also features a picture of a man standing over a dead fox. You cannot see his face. The 23-year-old man did not respond to our requests for an interview.
An undercover investigator with the Scottish SPCA said: “We believe thousands of Scots could be involved. The more we uncover, the more we fear it’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s the worst it’s been.
“There are hotspots in former industrial towns in places like Lanarkshire, Fife and Ayrshire but it really goes on everywhere. It’s been passed down from generation to generation but in today’s connected world, social media is making it worse.
“They use dogs to hunt foxes, badgers and deers but it can even be the neighbourhood cat.”
In Scotland, the Wild Mammals Protection Act of 2002 banned hunting foxes, badgers and hares with dogs.
Breaking the law can mean up to six months in jail or a £5,000 fine.
Hunters often seek out animals’ dens and dig them out, in order to make them fight with dogs. The fights are often filmed and circulated online.
Eddie Palmer, of Scottish Badgers charity, said: “People say to us, ‘I thought it was suspicious when I saw a couple of people out for a walk with dogs and a spade’.
“My message is clear – if you see this report it to the police.”
There were 44 hunting with dogs offences in 2015-16, up 24 on the previous year.
Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “It’s shocking that these brutal and cruel wildlife crimes continue in a modern Scotland.”
The Fife raid also found a quantity of illegal veterinary medicine.
Police Scotland wildlife crime officer Lindsay Kerr said: “We work closely with the Scottish SPCA and if any criminality is uncovered it is investigated thoroughly.”