Killing only infected badgers to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) could be as ineffective as culling large numbers, because the remaining animals are likely to move around and keep infecting cattle, new research has suggested.
Scientists looking at a pilot test-vaccinate-remove (TVR) project in Northern Ireland, where healthy badgers are vaccinated against TB and infected ones are killed, have combined data from the randomised badger culling trial to look at how the animals moved around during previous culls in England.
They found out that if the small-scale culling was to disrupt the remaining badgers into moving around more, TB in cattle could increase.
One of the authors of the study, Prof Rosie Woodroffe, senior research fellow at Zoological Society of London (ZSL), said, “TVR sounds appealing because only infected badgers are killed. Unfortunately, our findings suggest that the planned TVR pilot could alter badger behaviour in ways, which risk exacerbating the bovine TB problem, rather than controlling it.
“This is one reason why ZSL is exploring alternative options to reduce transmission between badgers and cattle.”
Animal protection groups, which already condemned the government for the failed culling trial in England and for proposal to gas the animals with carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, said it is time to ditch killing plans.
Mark Jones, executive director of Humane Society International UK, said, “This new research confirms what we and countless experts have been saying for years, that killing badgers is not an effective way of controlling TB in cattle, and could indeed make things worse not better for farmers.
“So we urge farmers to make a fresh start and pledge to be badger-friendly by protecting not persecuting badgers on their land. If they don’t, they may well be condemning themselves and their neighbours to an even worse cattle TB future.”
Photo: hehaden via Flickr