Thursday, July 09, 2009

U.S. Government Fox Bait

If you want to fully understand the difference between the U.K. and the U.S. when it comes to wild lands and wildlife management, take a tour of the various State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) web sites.

For example, consider this pamphlet entitled North Dakota Furtakers Educational Manual, put out by the North Dakota Game & Fish Department and available on line from the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (part of the USGS).

The table of contents is as follows:

In the U.K. they have banned all trapping, and instead of collecting taxes from trappers, they pay their government to go out and pump poison gas down tens of thousands of badger settes in order to control brucellosis Bovine Tuberculosis.

Here in the U.S., we regulate and license hunting and trapping with real seasons, bag limits, and a solid tradition of habitat protection. In fact, most states that have legal trapping actually produce manuals on how to trap (as does the National Audubon Society).

And what helpful hint does North Dakota Furtakers Educational Manual suggest for trapping red fox? Just this:

SUGGESTED BAITS: Fresh or tainted flesh such as rabbits, mice, ground squirrels, birds, etc.; partly decomposed flesh of house cats, fish, woodchucks, mice or small mammals.

Imagine DEFRA in the U.K. suggesting baiting a leghold trap for fox with a bit of "partly decomposed flesh of house cats!"


Dr Dan Holdsworth said...

Not Brucellosis, but the zoonose Bovine Tuberculosis. These are two separate diseases; the former being rod-like gram negative bacteria and the latter mycoplasm bacteria.

As for the control, well this is a little more complex than you might initially think. For a long time badgers were heavily persecuted in Britain, and eaten in the countryside as a minor part of the diet of many people. As a result the level of B. TB in badgers was relatively low, as was the population, save for a number of hotspot areas.

After World War II, pasturisation of milk to kill pathogens such as TB became commonplace and a programme of testing of cattle (culling affected herds) and culling badgers in B. TB endemic areas reduced the incidence in cattle of the disease to an all-time low, although there was always a suspicion that the culling could be done more humanely than by fumigating a sett with an acute poison like methyl bromide, hydrogen cyanide or carbon monoxide.

Everything changed in 1997, though. In the run-up to this election a certain Tony Blair took over the Labour Party in the UK, more or less seizing a political opportunity to get into power. At this time, the Labour Party was financially broke, so Tony and his colleagues were in no position to turn down donations from anyone and so took a number of what amounted to bribes from all manner of weird and wonderful groups.

One group was the animal rights lobby, and their shilling came with a demand: cease culling of badgers. The UK Ministry of Agriculture, at Blair's instigation, immediately ceased issuing licences to cull badgers except in absolute extremis. The result was an immediate and steady increase in the population, and as individuals met other infected individuals more and more groups of badgers became infected with B. TB. Interestingly over time the sponglioform (genetic type) of the various TB outbreaks has remained static, suggesting that a geographically static source is responsible for most of the infections of cows in each hotspot area; badgers really are the reservoir and it isn't cow-to-cow transmission.

This can be seen in the incidence of infected cattle, which resembles an absolutely typical exponential growth curve; exactly what you would expect with a disease hitting a population of susceptible individuals.

As things stand at present, DEFRA (what the Ministry of Agriculture got rebranded into) plans to start vaccinating badgers in the infection hotspots against Bovine TB. Every scientist who knows what they're talking about with regards vaccinations and TB cautions against this, since vaccinating individuals which might already have the disease is exactly the way to turn a mostly dormant infection into a ragingly active, easily spread one; this is also a very good way to stress badgers terribly and get a few operatives badly bitten in the process. At the same time the devolved assembly in Wales is planning on re-starting limited culling; we'll see which works best in future.

In Britain, the future for badgers is bleak. In all the hotspots and a lot of other areas they are going to have to be culled on a large scale simply to get rid of the wildlife reservoir of Bovine Tuberculosis; in the hotspot areas we're already seeing not only cattle and sheep infected with TB, but cats, dogs, llamas and deer infected; it won't be long before we see people getting infected.

Should the outbreak get any bigger, the EU will declare Britain to have endemic TB, and this will shut down all live exports of cattle, and a lot of the dead meat export too. So, nice going Tony Blair; by your actions a decade ago and ongoing inaction, you've landed Britain's farmers with a hell of a problem and set up thousands of badgers for an unpleasant death.

Doug said...

When feral cats become labeled as an exotic invasive with an open season, there will plenty of meat to bait the traps with.

Have you ever tried cat meat?


PBurns said...

To my knowledge I have not. There's a hedge there only because Iam told a cat, skinned and with his head and feet cut off, looks just like a rabbit.


PBurns said...

Thanks Dan -- fixed that! Brucellosis is what we here in the U.S. fear being transfered from bullfalo and elk to cattle. Bovine TB is the right one for badger!