(WILDLIFE) In an effort to prevent the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis (BTb) to domestic cattle, the UK Government has decided to allow badger killings for six weeks out of the year. While badgers may act as reservoirs for the disease, scientists believe the cull will have no significant contribution to the control of BTb. Read more from Global Animal’s UK Correspondent on the government’s decision and alternative, more humane strategies to prevent the transmission of BTb to cattle. — Global Animal

By Colleen McDuling

Animal rights activists and animal welfare organisations in the UK are outraged at the UK Government’s decision to institute a pilot cull of badgers in the south west of England. Badgers, Meles meles, carry a strain of Tuberculosis known as Bovine Tuberculosis or BTb. Whilst badgers are not the only species capable of transmitting the disease, they are one of the few species who act as reservoirs because the disease is very rarely fatal to them. 

Photo credit: 38 Degrees

In an attempt to prevent wild-domestic transmission of BTb to cattle, and thus preserving livestock populations, the UK government has issued a mandate that in a pilot study cull of badgers, the shooting of badgers is to be allowed under licence in West Somerset (288 sq kms ) and West Gloucestershire/Forest of Dean (331 sq kms) for six weeks in August and September. This will commence over the whole of these areas on the same night – affecting people walking, fishing or enjoying the countryside. Hundreds of badgers are likely to be killed or maimed. The four year pilot scheme aims to test the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting of badgers and is expected to begin this fall.

However, it has been contested that this cull will do any good; if anything it could make the situation much worse. Professor Lord John Krebs, a distinguished biologist from Jesus College at Oxford University is quoted on the 38 Degrees website as saying: “I can’t understand how anybody who’s looked at the science would say this is a good idea.” The RSPCA is quoted on the same website as saying: “This is despite scientific studies which have shown that culling would be of little help in reducing the disease in the long term, and could actually make things worse in some areas.” The League Against Cruel Sports in the UK is concerned that “The method of controlled shooting has never been tested and we have serious welfare concerns. Badger populations could be reduced by 70 per cent, and as the cull cannot be selective, many of the badgers killed will be healthy.”

Tell the UK Government that they should rethink the plan to shoot thousands of England’s badgers!

The cull is a direct contravention of the Protection of Badgers Act, 1992, which clearly states that it is an offence to: kill, injure or take a badger; cruelly ill-treat any badger or interfere with a badger sett. Under certain circumstances, licenses may be given to kill badgers. Further, results of a culling trial in 2008, and published in the UK press, showed that out of the 10,000 badgers killed, less than 2% of them showed any significant BTb. The leading scientists who conducted the trial concluded that killing badgers would have no significant contribution to the control of BTb. From this study, it appeared that cattle and not badgers were the source of BTb.

It is clear that there are other available strategies to prevent the transmission of BTb to cattle. An obvious suggestion is to reduce the numbers of animals being bred for food and for more people to adopt either a vegetarian or vegan diet. Other strategies include vaccination, better biosecurity, restriction of cattle movements, excluding badgers from farms and education of farmers.

Despite the scientific evidence to counter such claims that a cull would do any good, the UK Government seems set on the pilot cull this Fall. Perhaps pressure from the international community, might convince the British government that this cull is a waste of time and resources. The website 38 Degrees has put out a petition to this effect. Letters may also be written to Natural England who are licensing the cull on BTB@naturalengland.org.uk, as well as the Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, and the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Jim Paice, on james.paice.mp@parliament.uk. He may also be contacted at Defra, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR.