There’s a battle between those that care about animal welfare and some farmers and politicians in the UK who support a controversial badger cull.
At the center of that battle are hundreds of badgers that are being killed as part of a pilot cull this month in an effort to stem the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
For years, some farmers have blamed badgers for the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a disease which mainly affects cattle. Although humans can contract it from eating infected meat or drinking infected milk, the risk of human infection is low.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) opposes the UK Government’s decision to cull badgers as an attempt to control the spread of bTB, as it believes it is a cruel as well as ineffective way of attempting to deal with the disease.
Jordi Casamitjana, IFAW’s Campaigns and Enforcement Manager in the UK, told Gay Star News what makes the badger cull such a controversial topic is not just the large number of animals that are being destroyed, but the fact that the UK Government seems to be ignoring evidence and advice that culling is not the best way to go.
Casamitjana said: ‘This has very little to do with badgers, with bovine TB, it’s a political decision. That’s the tragedy of this. It is so clear that we should not do it, yet the Government seems blind.’
In 2012 the UK Government approved a mass killing of badgers in West Somerset and Gloucestershire. The cull was resumed in recent weeks, resulting in the trapping and shooting of over 600 badgers this year alone.
Animal welfare groups, like IFAW, suggest an alternative to killing badgers: A combination of testing cattle annually and improving biosecurity around the animals, including better control of cattle movements.
‘By improved biosecurity we mean all the measures you can take at the farm to prevent the spread of disease, such as stopping livestock from coming into contact with the wildlife, making fences badger-proof, etc,’ said Casamitjana.
He told Gay Star News how Wales has already successfully reduced bTB amongst its badger population by 50%, by trapping the animals and vaccinating them. Badgers are then tagged so they are not vaccinated multiple times.
Casamitjana went to Dorset to see a vaccination solution there on the ground.
‘You lure the badgers in with food, and the vaccine has a 74% effectiveness. Additionally, the cubs of vaccinated mothers get the immunity to bTB from their parents.’
Of the hundreds of badgers killed in last year’s UK cull, only four animals were tested for bTB. Three were clean of the disease and one had bTB bacteria but no infection.
The Government opted to remove an independent expert panel that last year aimed to ensure the cull met its goals to be humane, safe and efficient.
The panel found it was safe but neither humane nor efficient.
Despite these findings, the cull was extended because farmers had not managed to reach the original kill goal.
‘The most ironic element this year,’ said Casamitjana, ‘is that none of the badgers being killed have been tested to see if the rate of bTB previously found in randomised badger culls has changed.
‘Badgers are the victims of this infectious disease. Their contribution to the overall epidemic is minimal but they have been made the scapegoats.’
Many also point out that shooting the badgers could lead to ‘perturbation’, where fleeing animals will create mobile ecosystems that could actually increase rates of infection among cattle should the badgers run away from hunters and seek refuge in other areas outside their usual territory.
Science doesn’t seem to support the cause, and now increasingly, neither do Britain’s leading politicians.
This year, MPs voted 219 to one to halt the cull, which is supposed to end this month after six weeks of shooting and when the hunters have reached their goal of reducing the current badger population in the cull zones by 70%.
Last year, nearly 2,000 badgers were culled in the pilots while an estimated 26,000 cattle were slaughtered because of bTB infections.
‘We do hope this year will be the end of it,’ said Casamitjana.
So what can people do?
‘It’s now more important than ever to have people on the ground gathering evidence,’ said Casamitjana.
‘We no longer have independent investigators monitoring this year’s cull so transparency has been lost.’
Wounded badger patrols have already made headlines this year, putting on high visibility goggles and walking through the badger cull areas to see if they can find a wounded badger.
They can also be witnesses to the shooting to confirm if there are any violations of licence permissions.
‘People can help out by going to these patrols, by being there. As an individual, that’s the most important thing people can do.’
‘This is one of the most illogical and irrational policies this Government has introduced. It’s not right when science and the majority of opinions are ignored, and the suffering of these animals is unnecessary.’
This is one of a series of articles written by Gay Star News in partnership with IFAW to raise awareness of animal welfare within the global LGBTI community. To find out more about IFAW’s work to protect badgers and other animals around the world and how you can help click here.