Badgers. We’ve long had something of an ambivalent attitude towards them.
The Wildlife Trusts made one their mascot. Rupert Bear’s oldest chum was Bill the Badger. J K Rowling placed a badger at the core of the shield of Hufflepuff House to symbolise hard work and fair play. We spend nights in hides watching them, families feed them on patios across the country, and for many of us a glimpse in the headlights of a low-slung, humbug-headed badger trundling its way across a field is a sight to treasure.
On the other hand, the phrase to ‘badger someone‘ comes from the indescribably cruel and still all-too-frequent ‘sport of thugs’ badger baiting. We leave more than 50,000 of them in the gutter every year after running them over. Illegal fox hunts routinely illegally block their setts (which have been protected by law in 1992 under a strengthened Protection of Badgers Act).
And of course our government has licenced their extermination to protect the dairy industry from a disease of cattle, bovineTb.
What started as a trial has now morphed into a full-blown, ever-expanding ‘cull’ of badgers, which Dominic Dyer, chief-executive of Badger Trust, has described as “the largest destruction of a protected species in living memory. By the end of 2018, the government had spent over £50m of public funds killing over 67,000 badgers [since 2013], which could push the species to the verge of local extinction in areas of England where it has lived since the ice age. The badger cull is a cruel, costly and ineffective policy and its continuation is a national disgrace.”
Cull, kill…what’s the difference…?
Last year 32,601 badgers were ‘culled’ in thirty-two areas across Dorset, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Cheshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Staffordshire and Cumbria,
It’s an oddly sinister word ‘cull’. A ‘cull’ used to mean a selective slaughter, something precise, or the removal of surplus. It shouldn’t be applied to sentient beings, like wild animals, but it is. Now ‘cull’ seems to mean the licenced killing of anything that gets in the way of industry or development.
Using ‘cull’ instead of ‘slaughter’ or ‘kill’ (which is what is really happening of course) is probably meant to sound a little more ‘science-y’. Cleaner. Bloodless somehow. A little softer. It sidesteps images of pain, spilled guts, and fear. It’s a quick cull, carried out somewhere, by someone, with no real impact on the animal or us.
It’s probably true that even those of us who care – deeply – about wildlife have been lulled by use of the word ‘cull’.
Badgers in bags
Only of course, ‘cull’ and ‘kill’ are exactly the same thing. There is no difference. Calling it ‘culling’ doesn’t stop a bullet from hurting as it tears through muscle and bone. The bodies don’t evaporate like graphics in a computer game. They still explode internally.
And in the case of some ‘culled’ badgers they end up dead, piled up in plastic bags, ready to be thrown into an incinerator.
Quite rightly, the photo released yesterday by the Badger Trust (featured above) of a protected species waiting to be chucked away like trash, shocked and offended many of us who saw it. The carcasses (so we were told) weren’t even being checked for disease before their destruction. Just another animal that might or might not have ‘got in the way’ being wiped away like a stain.
Not everyone was shocked for the same reasons though. The Shooting Times, in a toe-curlingly, gleeful moment of ‘Let them eat roadkill’ tweeted that, “This is utterly wrong – badger ham was a popular West Country dish not that long ago and food poverty is a big issue in this country #eatbadger”.
Given that badgers are being wiped out to allegedly stop the transmission of a virulent disease, maybe giving them to people suffering from ‘food poverty’ because of government-sanctioned austerity is not the clever idea its social media team thinks it is?
And some vets bafflingly decided that now – at the very moment that genuinely concerned wildlife supporters were in a state of near-despair over the treatment of a favourite animal – would be a good time to pick a social media argument on the pointlessness of vaccinating badgers. Yes, there is always debate to be had, but why now unless you really couldn’t empathise with the hurt people were feeling?
Is there a War on Wildlife?
Talking of debate, the very phrase ‘War On Wildlife’ causes comment and division. Is there a ‘war’? What is a ‘war on wildlife’ anyway? Can’t we just call it something else…
Well, here you go. The widespread slaughter of a protected, much loved wild animal as a sop to dairy industry lobbyists, whether those animals are healthy or not, whether they pose a threat or not, where the public (in droves) objects, and where there are alternatives IS a War on Wildlife. And in this case, specifically a war on badgers.
There really doesn’t seem to be a euphemism, an alternative, a ‘cleaner’ or ‘softer’ way to put it.
So how do we tackle it? Learn more (we have podcasts right here with expert campaigners). Join a badger patrol (there are many online). If you can afford it, join the Badger Trust. Talk about the ‘cull’ with friends and family. And decide whether or not the dairy industry deserves your support.
The alternative is plastic bags full of dead badgers for many years to come.