One of the biggest issues that has come up in urban wildlife recently is in the United Kingdom. The simple facts are that farmers have found that the local badgers are spreading Bovine Tuberculosis(TB) to their cows.
On the surface the whole thing looks very straightforward. The Badgers are in essence killing the cows and each cow costs a farmer about 10,000 pounds each.
So to protect the farmers livelihood, and any meat or milk that is produced, the government has taken the step to authorize a culling of the Badgers.
However, a conflict of interest arrives in the form of the local people who love the badgers and do not want to see them all killed. According to the video story up on The Guardian they claim that there are other ways that the government could go about reducing the population of badgers in the area without killing them.
One thing everyone on both sides of the argument understands is money. The farmers looe money for every cow that is killed by TB from the badgers. While the locals claim that the government could, and even should, take the money for the cull and use it to find a vaccine.
If you have read anything that I have written before you know that I am on the side of the farmers in this case, but not for the reasons that you might think. The locals are wrong in that only the money from the culling for this year could be used to find a vaccine for TB. Which in essence would become the permanent solution to the problem.
What those locals do not understand is that it would take ten times more money, if not even more, to get that sort of vaccine. Even then it is clear that they have not looked at the problems that other countries, like the United States, have when dealing with Bovine TB. In Texas specifically the presence of Bovine TB has increased over recent years and the state has implemented what my teachers called, an exclusion zone right along the border with Mexico.
The reason for this is that many infected animals have been traced to steers bought from Mexico. To make sure that the steer or heifers are TB free, they now spend time in quarantine near the border until they are found to be negative for the disease.
If the locals from that area in the UK think that Americans have not, even now are not, working on a vaccine then they need to have their heads checked. This is a major problem that is affecting the US and one of the only ways that we have found to stop the spread is killing the infected animal.
The other thing that I found really interesting watching the video was that there was no mention of the habitat that the badger lives in. At some point the only reason an animals’ numbers are still going up is because of supplemental feeding. That is getting food not only from outside their habitat, but also things that are not found in their habitat. If anything, there seem to be people who love the fact that they have badgers coming to their yards to eat. These are also the people who go out of their way to leave food out for the badgers. In the video there is one shot of a local who has five, maybe six Badgers in his yard eating.
They say that the Badgers are fun to watch, but they do not seem to except that this supplemental feeding is what is causing more and more cases of Bovine TB to occur.
Hear me out first.
When the food or space in an animal’s habitat is limited the first response is to move out of the area to try and find more space and food to survive. Over the years this has led to badgers going into the city to look for these necessities of life. Which brings them into contact with humans who fall in love with the animal and want them to stay. They then feed the animal which not only encourages the original animal to stay but also to have offspring. Because there is a higher availability of food in this area more and more animals start living there and will inevitably start to spread diseases between each other.
So that begs the question, what have wildlife biologist said about the badgers’ health? Has there been any sort of report about the state of the badgers themselves? What is the state of the habitat of the badgers in that area?
These are questions that I heard none of, nor any mention of when I look at this story. My reasoning is simple, the more badgers there are in a given area the more likely it is that the population’s health is in trouble.
It might seem counter-intuitive but think about it for a second. The less that a badger, or any wild animal, has to fight for food, water, or shelter, the more time it has to devote itself to making baby badgers. As a result the population is less healthy, less prepared for what comes their way.
Even then the argument that the cull just wants to kill all of the badgers there is wrong. I have seen no evidence of that from anything that I have been able to find. Even then here is something to think about. The more you have people coming in for the cull the more that they will be spending money in your town. Not only will it increase the money in the town coffers to get jobs done, but it could also create jobs as well.
The culls will be happening at night as well, so it stands to reason that parents already do not want their kids outside at that time anyway. Also there is a lot of evidence to suggest that hunters are more careful than anyone gives them credit for. Are there a few bad apples? Yes, just like there always are in any group of people.
On the whole the situation is a little more complicated than just one group not having all of the information. The main reason is that emotions are involved. Will there ever be a cull where both sides agree? No, just look at the U.S.. There have been culls before, and when the Supreme Court got tired of playing referee the Senate had to pass a law that told everyone to play nice. That was over fifty years ago, and still the Federal and State groups fight.
Note: Robin Blankenhorn graduated with a degree in range and wildlife sciences from Texas A&M in Kingsville in May. She is working to start a career in urban wildlife policy.