Rosie Woodroffe, UC Davis assistant professor of conservation biology, is an authority on the biology of the European badger (Meles meles). The new report, commissioned by the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), is sure to be widely discussed in the UK, particularly by farming interests and badger protectionists. Those groups have battled for 30 years over the role that wild badgers may play as reservoirs and vectors of bovine tuberculosis, which can be transmitted through unpasteurized milk to people.
"In Britain, this is the largest wildlife controversy," Woodroffe said. "It's a massive issue not only because this is a zoonotic disease -- one that can spread from animals to humans -- but also because we just don't have that much wildlife left in Britain, and badgers are amazingly charismatic."
The badger-cattle controversy is similar to the fights between ranchers and conservationists over wolf re-introductions in the U.S. and Canada, Woodroffe said. "You have one lot saying, 'This animal is affecting my livelihood,' and another lot saying, 'This animal is beautiful and shouldn't be killed.' "
North American badgers (Taxidea taxus) do not carry bovine tuberculosis, Woodroffe noted.
Today's report by the seven-member Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB says that a field experiment begun in 1998 shows that "reactive culling," which kills badgers on and around farms where bovine tuberculosis has occurred, did not prevent future TB outbreaks in those areas.
In fact, there were 27 percent more cases of bovine TB in the culled areas than in areas where no culling occurred.
"Our finding suggests that 25 years of badger culling by the British government may have contributed nothing to the control of cattle TB, and points to the need to base government policies on sound science," Woodroffe said.
"The [reactive] culling of badgers ... will be suspended from today," said British Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw in a written statement to Parliament. However, another part of the experiment in which some badgers are killed proactively will continue.
News release from British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) http://www.
Details of the culling experiment http://www.