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Badgers fall prey to blood sport revival as 20,000 badgers slaughtered

16 June 2002 -Mark Townsend -The Observer

Badger-baiting has become Britain's deadliest blood sport, with a record 20,000 deaths forecast this year.

An unexpected resurgence in the gruesome pursuit, in which dogs are set on badgers, has prompted the RSPCA and the police to launch the first national campaign next month aimed at capturing offenders. A 1,000 reward will be offered for anyone with information leading to a conviction for badger-baiting.

Chief Inspector Terry Spamer, of the RSPCA's special intelligence unit, said there had been an 'explosion' in killings of the protected species, Britain's largest carnivorous mammal, particularly in Wales, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scotland.

The RSPCA has collated intelligence on 4,000 individuals suspected of involvement in the practice.

A decade after the introduction of the Protection of Badgers Act, 1992, the comeback of badger-baiting has stunned animal welfare groups. The estimated death toll this year is double last year's, and far higher than the 13,987 foxes officially killed by hunts last season.

'It has become very prevalent in the last few months after dying off in the Eighties and Nineties,' said Spamer.

Police and the RSPCA are exasperated at the low number of successful convictions - five last year and not one to date in Scotland.

Highly-organised gangs across the UK use terriers fitted with tracking devices to trap badgers in their underground setts. Once a badger is cornered, a pit is dug and terriers are dropped in to fight the animal, which is fearsome when cornered and attacked.

To give the dogs a chance, gangs often remove the claws and teeth of the badger or cut the hamstrings in its legs to ensure a closer, longer fight.

Evidence is also growing that some badgers are being transported back to gambling dens in cities, where up to 40,000 is reported to have changed hands on a fight.

Mike Sharratt, of Pembrokeshire Badger Watch in West Wales, said badgers had been sold for up to 500 to feature in such fights.

'These gangs operate very quickly. Once a badger is removed from its sett, it is often stabbed, shot or kicked and put in a sack for baiting later,' he said.

The killing upsurge comes amid calls for badger cruelty to be a recordable offence. More than 50 MPs are backing moves for legislation to be amended. They also want a loophole closed which prevents the police from investigating reports of badger-baiting on farms unless the landowner gives permission.

Officers believe some farmers encourage the killing of badgers on their land because they suspect that bovine tuberculosis is spread from badgers to cattle.

The maximum sentence for baiting is six months' imprisonment and a 5,000 fine.

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