Debate is raging in the UK over a controversial badger cull approved by Britain’s environmental secretary in February. Bovine tuberculosis, a deadly cattle disease, is on the rise, and the government suspect that badgers may be playing a part in transmitting the bacteria. Scientists disagree over whether or not killing badgers will actually slow the spread of disease, and groups like the Badger Trust and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals oppose it. Regardless, a pilot cull program is set to begin in Gloucestershire and Somerset as soon as June 1, the Guardian reports.
A third area in Dorset is also being prepared for a possible cull, should there be problems with either of the first two. Farmers conducting the cull will have to agree to kill at least 70% of the badger population in the affected areas.
The authorisation letters, issued by the agency Natural England, mean that culling can go ahead from 1 June, with the pilot culls lasting six weeks and to be repeated annually for four years.
Farmers and volunteers will shoot the badgers with shotguns or rifles, either while the animals are running free or after they’ve been caught in traps. But a document the Guardian got its hands on this week reveals that none of the gunmen have experience shooting badgers that haven’t already been trapped. And the technique of targeting the heart and lungs in order to reduce the animals’ suffering is “untested,” the Guardian reports. “As controlled shooting of badgers has not been carried out under scientific observation, objective data to judge its relative humaneness is lacking,” write the authors of the confidential report, which is labeled “PROTECT.”
To try to gauge badger suffering, the authors of the report propose that hunters should closely observe the animals’ death throes, noting the noises the badgers make and the similarities between their behavior and that of harpooned whales. The Guardian elaborates:
The document presents four possible outcomes of the shooting, including “death caused directly by the shooting due to severe trauma to vital organs” and “death caused indirectly by the shooting due to non-lethal wounding associated with secondary infections and starvation due to reduced mobility”. Missed shots and non-fatal wounding are the other possibilities.
The “time to death” (TTD) is cited as a key factor in assessing pain and distress and the document states: “A similar approach as to that which is used to determine TTD in whales is proposed for the current study.” It adds: “Observation of a shot animal’s behaviour and vocalisations is the only method available to determine the degree of pain that may be experienced during the dying process.”
Environmentalists and anti-cull campaigners have reacted strongly to the leaked document and continue to argue that the cull will not be effective for controlling bovine tuberculosis. Proponents insist that the cull, carried out by professionals, will be humane, safe and worthwhile.
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