Occasionally I am asked to write about a particular aspect of wildlife crime. The latest was a request at the end of March by the Northern Ireland Badger Group, who wrote,
@wildlifeblog Would you do a blog on how Badger diggers and baiters train their dogs? People need to know the horrific cruelty involved.
There is certainly cruelty in the training of dogs to take badgers, but I’d suggest there is much more cruelty both to the dogs and to other mammals during the operation of this abhorrent activity. I am sure that some of the criminals involved will train their dogs in a similar way to which dogs used for fighting purposes are trained. This includes having them gripping and hanging from tyres to strengthen their neck muscles and running on a treadmill to build up their stamina. Most badger diggers, however, seem content to train their dogs to kill smaller and less powerful mammals such as cats and foxes, then graduate to badgers. They may even pit them against smaller dogs though to be honest I’ve never seen this in the various items of intelligence I’ve trawled through. It most certainly takes place though in the training of fighting dogs, with pet dogs sometimes being stolen for this purpose.
From my own experience in Tayside we dealt with a young gamekeeper who had made an artificial fox den on land beside his house. He had captured some fox cubs and had put his terrier into the den to kill them. He had also tied a ferret on to the end of a length of string and set his terrier on it. Lastly he had caught someone’s cat and put it in a cage so that his terrier could tear at the cat through the cage. Worst of all he had filmed all of these episodes for his continuing ‘interest’. His fine of £200 in court was risible. Intelligence later indicated this man was involved in badger baiting so I’ve no doubt that this was what he was working up to.
Thankfully there is comparatively little crime committed against badgers in Tayside though we had a couple of setts dug out and another two instances of snares set for badgers. In these cases, had badgers been caught, their terrifying end would have been in the jaws of large dogs. We were also told by a farmer of gamekeepers from a nearby driven grouse moor on his land with shotguns, terriers and a spotlamp. He encountered them in their landrover hiding behind a wood. The opinion at the time was that they were after badgers but unfortunately he was unable to identify the men.
Much of the intelligence I dealt with when I was working with the National Wildlife Crime Unit related to badger digging. It also showed that sometimes the same people were involved in dog fighting, but were more likely to be involved also in the taking of hares, rabbits and roe deer with their dogs. Many kept a range of dogs, from the smaller terriers that they used underground, usually wearing locator collars, to much larger dogs to set on the luckless badger once it had been dug out from its sett or simply to lamp and kill them when they were foraging. These were often bull lurchers, which are a cross between pitbull terrier-type dogs and lurchers. They are fast and strong and a badger would have little chance against even one of these dogs.
I watched a video that had been recovered from badger diggers some years ago and the content has stuck in my mind. Thugs dug out two badgers from a sett. One was put in a pit dug out in the ground and stoned with large rocks until it was so badly injured it could barely fight back against the terrier that was then put in to torment it. The other was released and shot at with a shotgun, wounding it sufficiently that it had no chance against the pack of dogs set after it. The people involve in these atrocities are sub-human and deserve long jail terms if caught. The man with the shotgun was so reckless he was as likely to have shot his pal. I was secretly wishing that he had!
While bull lurchers, lurchers and other large dogs involved in taking badgers invariably show some scarring, the terriers, forced to fight underground, come off worst of all. The terriers almost always show extreme facial scarring and loss of skin, muscle and even teeth. They seldom receive veterinary treatment since the vet would recognise the type of injuries and would hopefully contact the police. I have no doubt that these people look upon a badly scarred dog as somewhat of a trophy. If their injuries are such that they can no longer fight or if they have shown any reluctance to do what is asked of them they would simply be killed by their owner.
Badger crime UK-wide is being fought through Operation Meles, an initiative involving the police, National Wildlife Crime Unit, the RSPCA, Badger Trust and other animal welfare groups. They are working together to gather evidence of baiting, which includes targeting “hot spots”, to track down offenders and prosecute them. I wish them every success, since the criminals involved are of the very worst type.