Welfare of badgers (Meles meles) subjected to culling: development and evaluation of a closed season
For the past 25 years, European badgers (Meles meles) have been subject to culling in Britain in attempts to limit the spread of tuberculosis (TB) to cattle. As part of a far-reaching evaluation of the effectiveness and acceptability of badger culling as a TB control measure, this paper assesses one aspect of the welfare of badger populations subjected to culling: the killing of breeding females, which risks leaving their unweaned cubs to starve in the den. To avoid this possibility, a three-month closed season was adopted, running from 1st February to 30th April, based on the best available estimates of the timing of birth and weaning in British badgers. During May 1999–2003, when a total of 4705 adult badgers were culled, field teams failed to capture 12 unweaned litters when their mothers were despatched. In 31 other cases, lactating females were culled but litters of almost-weaned cubs were also caught and despatched at the same dens, usually within a day of capture of the mother. The number of unweaned cubs missed by culling teams — estimated at approximately nine per year on average — was dramatically lower than that projected by a badger welfare lobby group. Our data suggest that the closed season is effective in reducing the suffering of unweaned cubs in badger populations subject to culling, and we recommend that this measure be maintained should badger culling form a component of any future TB control policy.
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