Moving Goalposts

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A debate has been raging within the United Kingdom on how to deal with bovine tuberculosis in domestic cattle. Unfortunately wild badgers have been targeted as a potential source for this disease, resulting in a cull in two designated areas which has involved the shooting of badgers to reduce the local population by more than 70% in an attempt to demonstrate a lower incidence of Bovine TB in cattle.

Most responsible scientists with expertise in this subject are against the cull and believe that it will not work. There is also the issue of animal welfare, in what seems to so far be a pointless slaughter of wildlife, bearing in mind that there are other more effective control measures such as vaccinating badgers, or management of livestock on farms in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

And so the badger cull debacle turned into a farce this week with the publication of widely contradictory figures for badger populations within the designated cull zones, and also the announcement that the badger cull may be extended again due to the its failure to reduce population numbers sufficiently order to make the cull “effective”.

This is of course an absurd situation. The inconsistent figures published indicate that no one actually knows for sure how many badgers live in cull areas, or how many have been exterminated as part of this cull. One thing has become apparent though. The badger populations are far lower than previously estimated, and may collapse if the cull continues. The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, blames this on the badgers themselves for “moving the goalposts”, a surprising and slightly ludicrous statement which can be interpreted as an admission that these beautiful creatures are in fact more intelligent than our politicians.

But the most disturbing part of this situation is that due to the wasteful and inefficient way that the cull was carried out (free shooting badgers regardless of whether they are healthy or not – 6 out of every 7 killed have been found to be disease free) the instigators of this cull extension have reverted to the use of trapping badgers in cages before exterminating them.

A very simple question is raised in the mind of the discerning reader; If a badger is trapped, with all the expense, effort and organisation involved with that, why not then simply administer a vaccine and then let the creature free?

During this difficult time, it is more important than ever not to lose sight of the suffering and devastation caused by these non-sensical culls. I have attempted to record a glimpse of their terrible impact in the following poem:

At rest with cubs in warm family sett,
Torpor disturbed by sweet-scented net,
With full moon outside just cannot sleep,
No final goodbyes on this occasion to weep.

Easy finds follow simple neat trails,
Does not seem natural but instinct prevails,
Leads blind follower into rusty cell,
Trapped in baited heaven waiting death row hell.

Piercing pain in back of neck, falls upon broken head,
Eye stares up from coffin deck, watches moon turn bloody red,
Executioner’s shadow suffocates life’s last sight,
Distant scream informs newly orphaned of end to sorry plight!

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