UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is a source of ridicule and frustration today as he claimed that more badgers must die during the controversial badger cull. The cull was enacted in late August of this year as a method of preventing further spread of bovine tuberculosis, a disease deadly to cattle. British farmers have complained that they are losing many members of their herds to the disease, and the government decided to enforce a badger cull as a way to stop badgers from spreading the disease to cattle herds. Bovine tuberculosis can affect many types of mammals, including badgers, cattle and humans.
Britons first discovered the disease in 1882 and have been combating it largely by slaughtering all infected animals for more than 100 years. For a short period, bovine tuberculosis was thought completely eradicated in the UK until some animals began showing symptoms again in the 1970s. In keeping with the traditional slaughter-the-infected method of curtailing bTB, a cull was legally enacted in Somerset and Gloucestershire, England late this summer. The government and all cull supporters have come under intense criticism from anti-cull activists at home and abroad.
Farmers are generally backing the cull, and are themselves responsible for hunting and killing the badgers on their property. Activists have attempted to keep the animals safe, but so far it is estimated that up to 40 percent of the area’s badgers have been eradicated. According to Owen Paterson, however, it isn’t yet enough: he believes that still more badgers must die to eradicate the threat of cattle disease.
Gavin Grant from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals thinks the cull was a terrible mistake. “The whole situation is a farce. They keep moving the goalposts on how many badgers exist and how many need to be killed but, whatever the figures, it is clear the system has failed.”
Paterson rebuffed the statement by saying: “I am not moving anything – the badgers are moving the goalposts. You are dealing with a wild animal, subject to the vagaries of weather, disease and breeding patterns.” The Environment Secretary is calling for an extension to the cull despite the fact that there were about 2000 fewer badgers in the cull areas than initially estimated, and the fact that his team has failed to kill as many as he had promised.
Dominic Dyer from Care for the Wild International estimates that the cost of the cull so far has been about 2 million British pounds (US $3.2 million). If as few as 2000 badgers have been killed, which is what some estimates suggest, each slaughtered animal will have cost the country as much as 1000 pounds. Animal rights activists are appalled that so much money has been spent on the violent eradication of badgers when the same amount of effort and money might have seen them vaccinated instead.
Dominic Dyer took a verbal shot at Owen Paterson’s recalculations and “goalposts” remark concerning the badger population and asked: “What happened? Did all the badgers hear about the cull and take off on holiday?”
Anti-cull activists are hopeful that they are responsible for the lower-than-expected numbers of dead badgers. Across Somerset and Gloucestershire, people have been disrupting the badger hunt simply by physically getting in the way. When a person is seen in the vicinity of badgers, hunters are obliged to back off and try a different area. The cull has left many animals suffering from attacks that were not immediately lethal, something that has enraged environmental welfare and animal welfare groups across Great Britain.
Owen Paterson said today that Britons should continue hunting the badgers for at least another three weeks to make up for low numbers.
Written by Mandy Gardner