With England’s badger slaughter just hours or days away, a group of veterinarians – including BBC Breakfast’s resident vet Marc Abrahams – has written a letter to DEFRA Minister Owen Paterson, to express their concern that the slaughter of badgers will result in widespread animal suffering.
Naturalist and broadcaster Bill Oddie also raised concerns that wounded badgers will bleed to death.
Badgers are due to be shot in two pilot cull areas, Gloucestershire and Somerset, using a combination of live cage trapping and night-time shooting of free-ranging badgers. The veterinary experts warn that many badgers are likely to be mortally wounded and left to bleed to death underground, that pregnant females will be targeted, and that newborn cubs could starve to death in their setts if nursing mothers are killed.
Mark Jones, vet, Executive Director of Humane Society International/UK, & letter signatory, said:
“The government’s badger cull policy is already scientifically discredited but as a vet and an animal welfare professional, I am really concerned about the animal suffering that is likely to result. Newborn badger cubs could be the unseen victims of this horrific slaughter. There is every chance that nursing mothers could be shot and if that happens, their dependent cubs will be left to starve to death underground. By allowing this to happen, DEFRA is showing a heartless disregard for animal welfare. In a civilised society, no animal deserves to die like this and the government, the National Farmers Union and the Veterinary Authorities should be ashamed for championing such cruelty in our English countryside.”
The vets explain that achieving a ‘clean kill’ of a low-slung animal like a badger during the hours of darkness, is extremely problematic. The ‘heart and lung’ target area identified in DEFRA’s Best Practice Guidelines, is well protected by the upper forelimb and associated musculature. This means there is a high chance that significant numbers of badgers will be injured, resulting in unnecessary – and in some cases extreme – suffering. These mortally wounded badgers are likely to crawl back underground into their setts where they will die a slow, agonising death.
Bill Oddie, naturalist and broadcaster, said “I cannot believe that they are going to be able to go out in pitch darkness – badgers are totally nocturnal – and to be able to shoot them. Because some of those animals are going to get maimed and they will bleed to death, they will probably crawl underground and die. It is truly a horrific situation.”
Concerns have also been raised that if free shooting continues into December or the new year, it will be almost inevitable that pregnant or nursing females will be killed, and dependent cubs left to perish. Badgers usually give birth in January and February but the first cubs can be born as early as mid December, increasing the chances that some cubs will already have been born during the cull period.
The vets also warn DEFRA that weaknesses in the methodology to assess the “humaneness” of the killing, mean we may never know the true extent of the animal suffering endured by badgers. Humaneness assessments will be made by collecting and examining badger carcasses, but licensees will only be able to retrieve badgers who have been shot cleanly. As a significant proportion may escape underground to die slowly from their wounds, their bodies will never be analysed and therefore those animals who are likely to have suffered the most will be absent from the study.