Department snarers condemned as "blackguards"
21 April 2006
Badger snarers employed by the Department of Agriculture as part of a so-called TB Eradication Scheme have been described as "blackguards" in the Sunday Independent. Popular Country Matters columnist, Joe Kennedy, outlined how badgers "endure unknown suffering before being despatched by gunshot".
ICABS applauds Mr Kennedy for highlighting the cruelty of this discredited department scheme. His 26 March 2006 column headed "You are paying for 'voodoo' torture" appears directly below.
When the poet James Stephens heard a sudden cry of pain, it was from a rabbit in a snare. "Now I hear that cry again/But I cannot tell from where," he wrote.
Few animals are even shot for the pot nowadays. But it may surprise some people to know that snares are still in use. Even this very morning, an animal may be horrendously enmeshed in a searing wire trace, struggling futilely to escape. And these snares are being set as part of a scheme carried out by agents of the State, whose wages are being paid by your tax euros.
The animals being singled out for a horrible end are badgers. It seems they were always victims. A couple of centuries ago, another poet, John Clare, witnessed the "laughing blackguards" among dogs and men "who go out and track the badger to his den". And "kicked and torn and beaten out he lies and cackles, groans and dies".
Today, this unfortunate animal, a protected species (something of a joke, Berne Convention or no), is still suffering horrendously at the hands of man, the "blackguards" now being employed by the Department of Agriculture and Food.
This is part of a programme aimed at eradicating tuberculosis in cattle. Over the past decade, about 30,000 badgers have been exterminated in official culls. And TB has not gone away. The badgers are caught in snares placed at their setts or underground colonies and endure unknown suffering before being despatched by gunshot by "badger operatives".
From available evidence, the snared animals can spend hours trying to disentangle themselves from devices which have been officially described as "most humane". The Dail was once told that there were "no reports to give rise to concern about these devices". At this time of year, the campaign is at its height. This is the breeding season. The animals are not wandering far from home. But now lactating sows are being caught so the cubs are doomed to starvation in the setts.
Badger culling as an essential element in the bovine TB-eradication programme has been complicated and controversial. The official line is that tubercular animals will infect cattle and are a reservoir of the disease. However, badgers may have picked it up from cattle in the first instance, and cattle may continue to infect each other. There are volumes of statistics.
One expert opposed to culling said it was based "on voodoo rather than science". Badgerwatch Ireland claims there is no scientific proof of the animal's role in the spread of the disease, despite the "accepted wisdom" of a arming and veterinary lobby. Poor standards of cattle health and welfare spread sickness like lightning. The foot-and-mouth outbreak showed how disease jumped from herd to herd. Intensely farmed cattle become as susceptible to TB as did humans who were badly housed, poorly nourished and stressed in the past.
The only way forward is a radical change in animal husbandry practices allied to an anti-TB vaccine. When this comes about, it will be a great day for agriculture, and the persecuted badgers.
Not all dairy farms are anti-badger, though. One substantial breeder of disease-free prize animals was proud to show me the badger setts on his land during a farm walk. Badgers are "an enduring lot", as Kenneth Graham's character says in Wind in the Willows, "and so will ever be."
Photos: Department of Agriculture's cruel badger snaring
Death of a young badger
She was a soft target from the start. The young sow, possibly one of last year's cubs, lay exhausted in the wire snare that now pulled tightly around her hind quarters.
She had spent many hours during the night trying to free herself. Her night's work was clear to anyone passing by. The fresh mud that covered her striped face bore testimony to her gallant efforts. The loose earth, softened after the previous day's torrential rain was scattered around the perimeter of the hole she had been excavating. It was her final bid to free herself of the snare, but it had all been in vain.
Now she had given up, too tired and too weary to go any further. Instinctively, she knew her life was over. She lay with her head resting on one of her front paws and awaited the shot that would end her young life. Her small carcass would then be bagged, tagged and casually tossed into the back of the trapper's vehicle along with the rest of the morning's carcasses and taken away for autopsy.
Far from being an illegal wire snare, set by the local lowlife, this was in fact a very legal and sanitised exercise.
Ireland's Department of Agriculture and Food had secured the necessary licence from The National Parks and Wildlife Service to snare and shoot badgers.
Now she was merely one more badger to be added to the list of almost 50,000 casualties that the Department have killed over the past 15 years or so for their alleged role in the spread of TB to cattle.
Later that morning passers-by would halt and look at the spot. Among the bluebells and primroses, the sunshine picked out the small pool of blood in the clay. It told its own tale on that summer morning in May 2005. (Thanks to Bernie Barrett of Badger Watch Ireland for this article).