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Posts Tagged ‘Eurasian badger’

"Don't cull me. I'm cute!"

From the BBC:

A majority of Britons in both town and country oppose killing badgers to curb cattle tuberculosis, an opinion poll for the BBC suggests.

Across the UK, about two-thirds oppose the measure, with majorities against culling in every age group, every region and across both genders.

The coalition has pledged to introduce culling in England, but recently admitted it may not happen.

And separate plans in Wales are on hold following the recent election.

Badgers can carry the bacterium that causes TB and transmit the disease to cattle herds.

The poll, commissioned by the BBC News website from pollsters GfK NOP, is believed to be the first time that the UK public has been asked a simple “yes or no” on the issue.

Across the country, 63% of the thousand adults polled by phone said badgers should not be killed for cattle TB, with 31% in favour of culling and the remainder undecided.

The proportion opposed was virtually identical in urban and rural areas.

Jack Reedy of the Badger Trust, which is leading opposition to a cull, described the result as “heartening”.

But, he suggested, decisions should ultimately be made on the basis of science.

The government’s commitment to look at introducing a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control… is the only light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”

“This is an opinion expressed by a lot of people, so that’s valuable,” he told BBC News.

“However, we have to attend to the science, and that should not be a political argument – although a political argument has been imposed.

“If [politicians] do pay more attention, prompted by this poll result, I hope it will lead to a more balanced, sensible outcome that’s fair on badgers, fair on farmers and fair on the general public as well.”

But Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said bovine TB was “out of control” in some areas and had to be stopped.

“In 1998 almost 6,000 cattle were slaughtered to control the disease, and in the UK in 2010, 32,737 animals were slaughtered,” he said.

“For farmers, the government’s commitment to look at introducing a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control, as part of a package of measures, in areas where there is high and persistent levels of bovine TB, is the only light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”

Government statistics show that the incidence of cattle TB declined slightly between 2009 and 2010, probably due to the escalation of TB testing on farms and restrictions on herd movements.

However, provisional figures indicate that incidence was slightly higher in the first two months of this year than in the corresponding period for 2010.

The participants in the BBC/GfK NOP poll were asked whether they lived in a rural, urban or mixed setting.

Measures such as screening are reducing TB incidence, but are unlikely to eliminate it

In urban areas, 57% said they opposed the cull, with 33% in favour and the remainder undecided; in rural areas, the majority was 59% to 37%.

Those living in a mixed urban/rural setting showed the strongest opposition, with 68% against killing badgers and just 26% in favour.

Bovine TB costs the UK economy about £100m per year, and has blighted farmers in areas such as southwest England.

But here, as in every other UK region, a majority of people in the BBC poll opposed culling.

The European badger (Meles meles) is a protected species under European and UK law, but ministers can sanction killing in certain circumstances, including to tackle disease.

Last year, Agriculture Minister Jim Paice announced government proposals that would allow farmers in England to organise shooting of badgers on their lands.

Applicants would have to satisfy a number of conditions, including:

  • the area must total at least 150 sq km
  • there must be “high and persistent” levels of TB in cattle
  • the group can show it can access at least 70% of the land in the area
  • the group must commit to culling at least once per year for four years

Licensees would be allowed to trap the animals in cages and shoot them, or just shoot them as they roam – so-called “free shooting”.

The previous Welsh Assembly Government proposed a different system for South Pembrokeshire, with contractors employed by the government to trap and shoot the animals.

Following May’s election, the Welsh government is reviewing these plans and is likely to announce a new policy soon.

Mr Paice, meanwhile, has recently said badger culling in England may not be possible because the government may not be able to build a scientific case that could survive a legal challenge.

A particular concern is thought to be that the efficacy of free shooting has never been tested in a scientific study.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told BBC News that the “devastating” disease of bovine TB needed tackling.

“However, there are a range of factors we need to consider in making a decision on badger control, including public opinion, scientific evidence, animal health and the impact on farming communities,” he said.

The results of this poll don’t surprise me all that much.

I remember watching a documentary about British people feeding the local badgers. Some people were spending vast sums just so they could have the badgers come by at night.

Badgers are also the largest terrestrial carnivoran native to the British Isles.

It is the British equivalent of the kodiak bear.

As animals go, it is relatively innocuous. And unlike our badger, it is social and relatively placid.

It is a cute animal that cause a the majority of the public little trouble, and it is one that can be tolled up to the back door– where you and your family can watch its every move!

I don’t see how the British government or its devolved parliaments can get away with implementing this policy.

The TB is a problem, but very often, the needs of wildlife management conflict with the desires of the public.

Now, governments should not base all wildlife management decisions upon majority opinion. It can be disastrous.

I just don’t see how a badger cull can ever be politically possible in the United Kingdom– particularly when there are no discernible town and country rifts as there is on the fox hunting issue.

This is a complex issue, and one that has to be made with the balancing of a lot of different factors.

Which makes this whole thing tricky.

How can a government encourage the culling of something so cute, just to promote cattle husbandry?

And what if even the rural public opposes killing this animal?

It’s a very tricky situation for cull proponents.

 

 

 

 

 

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Badger swarm

European badgers are social, unlike North American badgers.

And unlike our badgers, they will readily scavenge off of people. In some European cities, they are very much like our raccoons.

North American badgers are one of few mesopredators that have become more scarce since European colonization.  Most other mesopredators, like coyotes, raccoons, and opossums, have become far more common.

So European badgers thrive in the presence of Western Civilization; North American badgers do not.

There’s got to be a metaphor in that somewhere, but I just can’t divine it.

If you’ve got one, let me hear it!

 

 

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Eurasian badgers are not solitary.

Eurasian badgers are not solitary.

When I reared a [European or Eurasian] badger I never could forbid it to do anything. If I scolded it when it opened a cupboard and pulled out my linen, and if I gave it a smack on the nose it attacked me.  It would not subordinate itself.  A dog, on the other hand, quickly learns to obey.

Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Love and Hate, p. 89.

Before Eibl-Eibesfeldt discusses the badger, he claims that its recalcitrance is the result of its solitary nature. The dog learns to obey because it is a social animal.

He would have been correct if the subject badger had been of the North American species. It really is a solitary species, and it is even more aggressive than its Eurasia counterpart when cornered.

However, the European badger is a social animal. Indeed, it lives in social groups that center around a mated pair– just like we would expect to see in wolves. And just like wolves, generally only this mated pair reproduce.

I don’t know why Eibl-Eibesfeldt thought that these animals are solitary.

But it wouldn’t be the first time this mistake has been made.

Many people believe, with almost theological fervor, that European rabbits are solitary, and thus, the best way to keep domestic rabbits, which are derived from European rabbits, is in separate cages. This is nonsense.

European rabbits are colony breeders. Dominant buck rabbits maintain harems, while subordinate males form monogamous relationships. The bucks actually help care for the young. This behavior is very different from cottontail rabbits, which maintain small territories, and are indeed relatively solitary.

So why did Eibl-Eibesfeldt have such a hard time training his badger?

Well, I’ll answer that by asking another question: Why do people have a hard time training wild animals, even those that are social?

The best example I can think of is the wolf. Wolves are very hard to train.

Now, you’d think that their trainability would be quite high, because we know that domestic dogs are very easy to train. Surely dogs got their trainability from their wild ancestors, right?

Well, this assumption is simply wrong. Wolves are almost impossible to house train, and while they can learn behaviors, they don’t seem to ever develop the almost scary reliability one sees in some of the easily regimented breeds of domestic dog.

We now believe that the domestic dog got its trainability through domestication. Some scientists like Vilmos Csanyi actually argue that dogs have developed an ability to learn rules,  a skill that no other species has been able to match.

Now, I won’t go that far, but I will say that much of the research on domestic dogs shows that they have developed some sort of cognitive shortcuts that allow them to read humans. It’s also possible that we have also developed complementary cognitive short-cuts that also allow us to read them. Whatever it is, domestic dogs have a leg-up (no pun intended) in learning how to fit into human society.

And that’s why Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s badger had a hard time learning the rules. It wasn’t because the badger was solitary. It was because the badger’s brain hasn’t evolved to fit with human society.

This story about the badger is a very good example of an ethologist getting something wrong about the natural behavior of a species and then using those results to generalize even larger errors.

Thus, it’s not the solitary nature that makes the badger hard to handle. It is the fact that it is a wild animal that makes it hard to handle.

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