As well as cull, contraceptives lined up for badgers in battle against farm TB

argylesock says… How to stop the spread of tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle (Bos primigenius)? By giving a contraceptive to wild badgers (Meles meles)? Such a thing doesn’t yet exist. But I like this idea. If there are too many badgers – are there too many badgers? I should look up the science on that. If a badger contraceptive becomes available, and if it can be given to badgers in a good way – I’m thinking, adding it to tasty worms as badger bait – then this could be a great development. It would take away the issue of infected badgers moving into empty setts, which is the big reason to think that the cull won’t work. You can see more under my ‘badger’ and ‘tuberculosis’ tags.



How many ways shall I ‘not’ kill thee….

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson pledged to eradicate disease from English cattle within 25 years. The Independent reports

The government is working on a contraceptive for badgers as it looks for new ways to reverse the rapid spread of bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

A birth control pill or injection could play a key role in reducing the population of badgers which help spread the disease among cows, a government official said today.

TB in cattle has soared over the past decade, resulting in the slaughter of 28,000 infected cows last year, and the government says Britain’s growing badger population is largely responsible. Some 28,000 cattle were slaughtered last year at a cost of £100m to the taxpayer.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has commissioned research into whether a contraceptive programme for badgers could work and how it could…

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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7 Responses to As well as cull, contraceptives lined up for badgers in battle against farm TB

  1. theresagreen says:

    This is such a complicated problem! Where would you begin to find out if there are too many badgers? How is an acceptable population of them calculated? Over what period might contraception be administered and would it be restricted to badgers in certain areas. Has our bovine population increased in the same period as that of the badgers too?

    • argylesock says:

      Thanks for reminding me about this! It belongs on my to-blog list which keeps getting longer. The first places I’d look to find out whether there are ‘too many badgers’ would be Google (despite its lack of peer review), PubMed (despite the delays inherent in academic publishing), DEFRA (which of course toes the Govt line, up to a point), popsci sources (which of course have to be read with a critical eye) and any of the badger-related NGOs (ditto). The other thing I’ll do, if I get around to this, is to ask the ecologists I know. You for example. Do you think there are too many badgers, Theresa?

      If I do research this, I have advantages that some people don’t have. I’m a Visiting Fellow at a University with good ecological research groups and a good academic library.

      I’d also like to know why this idea of badgers spreading bTB is so much a hot topic here in Britain, but not elsewhere.

      But don’t hold your breath. I dont guarantee that I’ll get around to following up on these ideas for a while, or perhaps at all.

  2. theresagreen says:

    Thanks Sam, no pressure! I was asking as I wouldn’t have a clue about what ‘acceptable’ badger numbers would be based upon. My closest contact with them has been on my friend’s property in Pembrokeshire where we put food out in the evenings to coax them onto her deck. They also patrol the garden regularly and eat slugs. Their sett is very close to a cow pasture and as badgers and cows have been in close proximity for years I can only assume they have no problems with bTB there otherwise I’m sure there’d be no badgers by now, legally or not.

  3. Tony says:

    Maybe, it’s a fact there are too many humans, whoops did I just say that? On similar line regarding badger numbers (studies suggest there is an ever-increasing population) I believe behind wider-ranging issues in our ecosystems have to be partly due to population pressures within wildlife communities. If we are to control tb in Badgers, then we also need to look at Deer, Wild Boar etc. and irresponsible dog-owners who allow their dogs to crap on the farmland, could there be a link there? In fact, there is a hell of a lot of factual data out there researching imbalances between prey and predator, alongside perhaps more pressing issues such as climate change, habitat mismanagement and the like. All of which leads me to my latest posting on naturestimeline. Please take part by clicking on the link below.

    • argylesock says:

      Does dog muck spread Tb? I thought it was mostly droplet infection.

      I follow naturestimeline but a bit behind with reading.

      • Tony says:

        Dog poop probably doesn’t spread Tb I guess, but I distinctly remember hearing about it bringing up all sorts of disease potential in cattle. I’m well behind with my blog following too. The irresponsible dog owning issue is a serious cause for rare bird declines however, on our local common. That would fall under the last option on my poll I imagine. Now, what was this post about again, sorry, gone off on one, back to lurking.

        • argylesock says:

          I like it when you write your thoughts, Tony. Hadn’t heard of the dangers of dog muck to birds.

          For cattle, Neospora caninum is a real issue. The Neospora story embarrassed some parasitologists because nobody noticed that this is a different organism from the well-known Toxoplasma gondii. Under the microscope they look similar and they both cause abortion in ruminants.

          Toxo’s definitive host (the host where it can do its sexual life cycle) is the cat, and the livestock species which most often aborts due to Toxo is the sheep.

          Neospora’s definitive host is the dog, and the livestock species which most often aborts due to Neospora is the cow.

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