Mak­ing a killing from culling our poor badgers

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Puzzles - Fiona O’Con­nell

THE bright lights of a big city mean you don’t have to don a flu­o­res­cent jacket. Whereas they are es­sen­tial wear when walk­ing on pitch­black coun­try roads. Alas, our wildlife has no such lu­mi­nous lifebelt.

Among the most reg­u­lar road-kill you see is the badger. Though th­ese iconic an­i­mals have worse to en­dure. For badgers have long been blamed for spread­ing bovine TB. They have been sub­jected to a re­lent­less and indis­crim­i­nate culling cam­paign for decades that in­cludes nurs­ing moth­ers, leav­ing their young to starve in their un­der­ground setts. More than 100,000 badgers have been killed.

But ear­lier this year Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture Michael Creed an­nounced that Ire­land would start to use vac­ci­na­tions. It was claimed “this ma­jor shift” was the re­sult of years of sci­en­tific re­search funded by the depart­ment.

Yet this hu­mane al­ter­na­tive has been used in other coun­tries for 27 years.

Could Creed’s change of heart have more to do with sav­ing face, fol­low­ing a study three years ago by Queen’s Univer­sity that sug­gested culling badgers “con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly” to TB out­breaks? And in­deed that TB stems from poor farm prac­tices?

Yet de­spite this ev­i­dence, and our dev­as­tated badger pop­u­la­tion, Creed in­sists culling will con­tinue.

A friend of mine, who lives out­side this coun­try town, has a the­ory as to why this might be so. He reg­u­larly sees men who work for the depart­ment set­ting snares for badgers.

“They’re not sup­posed to be do­ing that,” he says. “They’re sup­posed to catch them and bring them into the depart­ment and test them for TB. If they have TB, then, fair play, put them down. But they’re killing the badgers and then bring­ing them in.” Lit­tle won­der, when li­cences are is­sued en masse once a year, with lit­tle or no su­per­vi­sion.

My pal tells me about a nearby place “where they took out 302 badgers — but only one out of the 302 had TB. The girl in the depart­ment was a cousin of a cousin of mine and she told me: ‘They get €280 a badger — you catch 10 badgers a week’.”

My friend waits un­til the men leave. Then he goes and takes up “those bru­tal cruel yokes. One time I took out 135 snares in two acres. They had snares at every tree.”

My pal un­der­stands the farmer’s point of view. He and his fa­ther kept cat­tle for 35 years. “The year be­fore we stopped, the depart­ment came in and took out the badgers. And that was the first year me and an­other guy got TB.”

He be­lieves dirt causes the dis­ease. “They’ve done stud­ies in Eng­land, where birds filthy the drink­ing wa­ter, and they don’t clean it out from one year to the next.”

But “badgers are the scape­goats be­cause culling is good busi­ness.

The vets don’t want to stop be­cause it’s a mon­eyspin­ner. They do three tests and get more for the sec­ond and the third than the first one”.

Sounds like it pays ob­scenely well to sett up the poor badger.

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