Last week, the Telegraph - [link] carried a piece on animal tracking described by Simon King. In extracts from his new book, the general public are encouraged to go out and seek signs of badgery behaviour.
Mr. King informs his readers that:
Badgers leave a characteristic footprint that has a “square” overall shape. On harder ground, they may leave nothing more than a few claw marks but even these, with their even spacing and fairly parallel alignment, are distinctive. In addition to individual prints, badgers create well-worn tracks or paths around their territory.And then he goes on to tell his readers about this animal's ablutions, and in particular, its toilet training:
Badgers are almost unique among European wild mammals in their habit of digging pits into which they deposit their dung. Because several animals from a badger clan use the dung pits communally, you frequently find several different textures and colours of fresh dung in the same shallow pit. The animals also have scent glands which they use to mark the ground (and each other).Now not to put too fine a point on it, these piles of badgery droppings, parked conveniently in their shallow latrines, along with urine and scent marks, have proved useful to many scientists - [link] in tracking a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, known as mycobacterium bovis.
This bacterium ( the subject of this blog) is the cause of a lethal, slow burn disease called Tuberculosis.
And being a zoonosis, humans and indeed any mammal can contract it, particularly if they are in the habit of sniffing faeces or other material containing it. Such is the influence of this detritus on the cattle skin test, that cattle farmers are beaten over the head with bio security advice to fence off such latrines, this to prevent cattle coming into contact with them. To approach one and sniff, is all too often the equivalent of a bovine death warrant.
For human beings, handling anything near these latrines requires the wearing of protective clothing, masks and gloves. And testing such material requires that the laboratory concerned has Grade 4 clearance - [link] and bio security extending to years of screening tests, for its workers.
Mr. King however, thinks that this product, excreted by one of the most lethal weapons of cattle destruction on the planet, is rather nice. He explains that the smell of a latrine contents:
".. is easily detected by the human nose and is reminiscent of Marmite. I rather like it, but, like Marmite, it’s not to everyone’s taste."After that description, if you've still got the stomach for it, there's more here - [link] including a picture of the charming interviewer, Boudicca Fox-Leonard, sniffing a chunk of otter poo.
This man's advice should come with more than one health warning.