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The Grim Fate of the Irish Badger

15 April 2001 - Short Extracts from the Badgerwatch Ireland newsletter.

Foot and Mouth Disease could spell disaster for wildlife too:

Sharp shooters from the Irish Army are on standby to cull or quarantine wildlife (including badgers) in the vicinity of any outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease FMD. Duchas, the National Parks and Wildlife Service will take charge of the emergency containment plan which was drawn up early in March. Wildlife in the vicinity of the infection will be assessed and "appropriate action" taken immediately. We're told that the action, which can take place at the drop of a hat (even faster than it took Duchas to magically change the wire badger snare to a restraining device) will include teams of riflemen from the Army Rangers.

While we fully acknowledge the effects of FMD and its consequences, this is drastic action for wildlife who may be caught up in this potential disaster. Dare anyone voice an objection on their behalf. We've seen it and heard it all before. For far too long badgers have been at the wrong end of the .22 rifle for offences not of their making. They will always be the soft target. Our badgers have been listed in the past as possible reservoirs for cattle TB . In the awful event of FMD surfacing in the Irish Republic, will this disease also be added to the list? At the end of the day will we still have the small army of animal smugglers, the removers of ear tags and the perpetrators of the countless scams which appears to have long infested the agri-industry on this island?

Such a measure of wildlife control has been rejected (so far) in Britain after leading experts in the fields of Agriculture and wildlife management advised that such a measure could merely exacerbate the problem of FMD by the dispersal of wildlife who may be potential carriers into clean areas. This makes sense. Having Army and Duchas personnel, moving from farm to farm, identifying setts, setting snares and returning to shoot the occupants and disposing of carcasses, can certainly be counter-productive. Distressed by this new disturbance, some wildlife (and there will always be the snare-shy ones) will certainly flee, possibly carrying the virus from the infected area to a clean locality.

At the time of printing, Ireland remains free of FMD. It goes without saying presently that all activities of badger-watching and sett monitoring be totally avoided. Badgers and foxes are not susceptible to the disease but, like any other animal and human, may be carriers. The virus may live for up to 14 days on fur, clothing and footwear. Our sympathies are with the farming families who have worked hard and obeyed the rules. We can only pray that all be spared the affliction of having FMD visited upon them.

Update on Irish Government's badger culling strategies:

Unfortunately the plight of badgers failed to make the agenda of the 20th Standing Committee of the Bern Convention held Nov/Dec 2000 in Strasbourg. Complaints for the next session of the Standing Committee will be lodged before September 2001. Badgerwatch is hoping to attend this session.

The Irish Government in compliance with the 1999 Bern Convention request, submitted an annual report through the Department of Agriculture (Report of the Department of Agriculture Food & Rural Development on Meles meles in Ireland.) This report was accompanied by an annex

from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Submitting such annual 'progress' reports on its research programme into Mycobacterium bovis infection in cattle and badgers, at least puts our Government in a situation of accountability. The report is worth looking up and if you've got access to a computer it can be found on www.nature.coe.int We will deal briefly with some of the issues....

Annexe to the Department of Agriculture's Report to Bern Committee by National Parks and Wildlife Service. ( Report on the control of badgers in Ireland)

This report refers to the annual progress on the following;

  • Progress on the research programme on bovine TB infection in cattle and badgers. Part of this dealt with the use of the Gamma-interferon Test. It is used to compliment the comparative skin test in problem herds. Wider use is planned for next year. Badgerwatch is awaiting details of the level of testing by this method for the years 1999 and 2000. Research for the development of a badger vaccine continues.

  • Review the need for a closed season for snaring and removal of badgers.

The DOA research suggests there is no need for a closed season. Badgerwatch contends that the need for a closed season has long gone unrecognised (See article "February brings little joy") It is widely accepted that 50% of badger cubs fail to survive the first year of life. A closed season on snaring during the first four months of the year is needed. It would help the species through this most critical of times, to born and rear their young. However, to be seen to be Bern compliant, Duchas has kindly introduced a closed season in the Four Area Research project for the months of June, July and August. What's the one about lending an umbrella when the sun shines?

Mid-summer is THE most inopportune time for snaring operations. It is known that badger-culling projects tend to get under way in Autumn. The reason being that the dense undergrowth of the summer months has begun to die back, exposing badger setts and thus expediting the whole operation of snare setting. This move to select the less active summer months for a cessation of field activities is an empty gesture which affords little or no benefits to the badger populations. The UK observes a closed season on trapping from January - April 30th. This is what is required in this country.

Review the capture methods:

The DOA, have reviewed capture methods and according to the report have found no evidence to support a hypothesis that other methods provide a better welfare benefit. Indeed! The capture of badgers by use of the indiscriminate wire snare remains a barbaric practice which should have been outlawed long before now. The renaming of this lethal weapon to a 'restraining device' changes nothing. Badgerwatch finds it unacceptable that the present means of capturing badgers be allowed to continue. By pursuing this method of capture, it would appear, Ireland is in breach of Article 8 of the Bern Convention.

Local disappearance of badger populations:

Badgerwatch disputes claims by the DOA that there is no risk of local disappearance of the species. Almost 1,800 badgers were removed during the East Offaly Badger Removal Project over a five year period. To validate its findings, four similar badger culling projects are presently being carried out in Cork, Donegal, Monaghan and Kilkenny. Last year, Minister J.Walsh gave the go-ahead for another major cull as part of the PPF agreement. To quote " the removal of ALL sources of infection in the 20% of the country that yields 50% of the reactors...". Naturally such intensive culling in 'Project' areas will certainly lead to local disappearance of badgers. Duchas seems to have decided at a later date that a condition of the licences would be that badger populations should not be reduced below 20% in such project areas. We asked how this would be achieved. We wondered if a regular 'quota' of snared badgers would be released back to the wild in project areas? The answer appears to be no, but we were assured that a % of badgers are always "missed" in normal snaring operations. In the absence of any other explanation, it seems that the responsibility now lies with the badgers themselves to make such snaring projects Bern compliant!

20% of TB scourge is caused by 'bought-ins' Ann Fitzgerald Farming Independent 12/10/01

Bought-in cattle are potentially causing over 20% of all TB breakdowns, the Department of Agriculture is claiming in support of its push for the reintroduction of a pre-movement TB test. The figures were presented at last week's Animal Health Forum meeting which focused on the new TB and Brucellosis regimes. The farming bodies report some progress from the meeting but say the two sides are poles apart. A further meeting, chaired by Dept. Of Agriculture secretary John Malone, is due to take place today.

Many of the key issues under discussion are still unresolved. These include the pre-movement test, the proposed increase in disease eradication levies, the valuation ceiling (which has now been increased to (1,800), the income supplement and the conditions relating to full market value. In its examination of the role of bought-in cattle on disease restrictions, the Department looked at the period from March 1 - May 31, 2000, during which the total number of breakdowns was 2,261.

Half of all breakdowns - 1,129 - were due to singleton reactors, of which 188 (16.7%) were clearly identified as caused by bought-in cattle. This "clear indication" refers to where the original herd was found to have TB afterwards. In addition, in a further 65 cases (5.8%), bought-in cattle were a potential source.

Thus, bought-in Cattle potentially caused over 22% of all singleton breakdowns. Of the 1,132 multiple breakdowns, 150 (13.3%) were clearly identified as being caused by bought-in cattle while a further 84 cases (7.4%), bought-in cattle were deemed to be a potential source.



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