Thursday, March 29, 2007

Record Numbers in the Hedge

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AMERICA IS BLESSED with many kinds of quarry
that can be worked by terriers year round: groundhog, raccoon, red fox, possum, gray fox, and badger.

Most terrier quarry is at record levels of abundance, and most folks in the Eastern U.S. and Midwest live within a half hour of excellent hunting opportunities.

Groundhog populations, for example, are much higher now than they were in Colonial times when most of the Eastern U.S. and Midwest was forested. Red fox, of course, is an import, while raccoon populations today are 15 to 20 times larger than they were in the 1930s.

In the U.K. wildlife in the hedge is also doing remarkably well and is at record levels.

Red fox populations, for example, now appear to be at the limits of biological density, with the Mammal Society estimating the late-December fox population to be stable at about 250,000, with about 14% of this population in urban locations.

In the Spring, of course, the fox population of the U.K. soars, with the addition of about 425,000 fox kits, but large numbers of these cubs subsequently die from disease or starvation, while later in the year fox numbers are also thinned by vehicle impact (estimated at 100,000 a year), shooting (estimated at 80,000 a year) and hunting with dogs (estimated at about 20,000 a year in 2004 before the so-called "ban" went into effect). In his excellent book "Running with the Foxes," wildlife biologist David MacDonald has noted that "foxhunting is of minor significance to foxes in particular, or amongst wildlife issues generally."

Red fox population growth, U.K., 1961-2000

As for badger, the Mammal Society reports that there are now more badger in the U.K. than red fox -- an astounding thing considering that red fox are now so common as to be seen as a bit of an urban plague in the U.K.

British badger populations also appears to be at their biological limits, with little or no growth in numbers in recent years, and mortality accomplished chiefly by disease, starvation, vehicle impacts. In addition, DEFRA -- the Department of Environment, Farms and Rural Affairs -- routinely gasses thousands of badgers a year (and has been doing so for more than 30 years) in an effort to eradicate the animals from from areas where brucollosis (a kind of bovine tuberculosis) is a worry.

For more information, see:
>> Mammal Society release (2005)
>> Vet Wildlife Management (PDF)

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