As the thorny question of targeted badger culling refuses (quite rightly) to lie down, Veterinary Times last week published a thought provoking Point-of-view, from T.O Jones, MBE, BVSc, CBiol, FBS, FRCVS on how this may be achieved.[ sorry no on-line link, so we'll summarise.]
The piece begins by describing the TB situation in West Wales, which has led to the Welsh Assembly's intention to pioneer a targeted cull of badgers in that area. We have covered some farmer's stories from this area here (Trioni Farms) and here (Cilast herd) But how will Wales actually carry out the deed? So much red tape is wrapped around this animal, that cage trapping and shooting appear to be favourite - not ideal, in fact far from it, which is why Mr. Jones puts his eloquent pen to paper.
He points out that this method is unlikely to achieve even 80% of the target group at best, with the RBCT's halo of 'peturbation' and spread of bTB by distressed untrapped badgers as a result. (We continue to attribute this 'perturbation' phenomenon to the Badger Dispersal Trial, and that alone, because it was not evident in previous AH culls.) And of course, there has to be a 'closed season' from February to May to avoid leaving cubs to starve underground by shooting lactating females. All in all, a pretty poor effort if one is serious about disease control.
The use of carbon monoxide (CO) Mr. Jones suggests, is worth looking at, with a machine which uses it for rabbit control being tested in Australia. He then asks if this is not available in the UK, in cylinders? or as solid (concentrated) frozen CO?
"Many humans would opt for an unpremeditated, painless euthanasia during sleep as their exit of choice. Pure unadulterated CO poisoning might well be acceptable for such an approach in badgers."Also a possibility is Carbon dioxide (CO2) and possibly pure nitrogen. Pointing out that:
"Mobile on-site nitrogen generators are used in the oil industry, but are presumably too large for the Welsh countryside. But would it be worth purpose building a small one? One litre of liquid nitrogen produces 683l of gaseous nitrogen at normal atmospheric pressure and could have a place in euthanasia apparatus."As Mr. Jones points out, badgers obligingly live in their setts during Defra's working hours and during prolonged cold periods may not emerge for several weeks when they are said to be in a state of 'torpor'. "Could they not", he asks "be euthanased while in 'torpor', during this period?"
"Collection and disposal of carcases would not be problematic [ with gassing] A 100 per cent cull, with no perturbation could be anticipated. Setts could be blocked or collapsed to hinder recolonisation in the sure knowledge that no live animals were present."Much of this thought provoking essay, calls on other industries to throw their respective hats into the ring and offer ideas for practical administration of a humane gas to these subterranean animals.
The delivery of gas into badger setts has been trialled both by Defra and Porton Down when with their very own unique buckets and spades, they built an artificial sett - each. And despite howls from the Badger Trust, gas was available in adequate quantities at all parts of the sett - once they'd blocked up the entrances.
Mr. Jones argues that a targeted cull of badgers in bTB hotspot areas, followed by a gradual infiltration with vaccinated, healthy badgers would deliver the nirvana of healthy badgers, healthy cattle (and cats, dogs, alpacas, llamas, goats, pigs ..... ed)
"Our country has an established meline TB problem - some badgers suffer from TB and spread it to healthy badgers. A lingering death from progressive TB in a proportion of infected badgers is painful. What action is suggested? Doing nothing, and allowing TB to spread through the UK badger population is not necessarily a position of moral superiority"