A group of vets has warned that badger culling to control tuberculosis in cattle, which is set to begin in the South West, will result in widespread suffering for the wild animals.
Farmers say the cull is necessary to tackle rising rates of TB in cattle, as the wild animals can spread the disease to livestock, costing the industry and taxpayers millions of pounds a year.
But several vets have now added their voices to those campaigning against killing the protected species, which they say will not significantly reduce TB in cattle.
Under the terms of the licences issued for two pilot culls in the south west of England, free-roaming badgers will be shot.
In a letter to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, the vets said: “The shooting of free-roaming badgers at night with shotguns and rifles, even when carried out by trained individuals is, in our opinion, highly likely to result in suffering for a significant proportion of targeted animals.”
They said badgers’ hearts and lungs, which are highlighted as the target area for shooting, were well protected by the upper forearm and muscles.
“It is, in our opinion, likely that many targeted badgers will not be killed outright; the natural behaviour of those that are injured will be to try to return to their underground setts where they will likely suffer a slow and very unpleasant death.”
The pilot culls aim to find out how safe, effective and humane culling is, but the vets warn there are no provisions for assessing the humaneness of the shooting.
They also raise concerns that the open season for shooting badgers could lead to targeting of pregnant animals and, towards the end of the open season, even mothers with cubs which could starve as a result.
One of the letter’s signatories, vet and executive director of Humane Society International/UK Mark Jones, said: “The Government’s badger cull policy is already scientifically discredited but as a vet and an animal welfare professional, I am really concerned about the animal suffering that is likely to result.”
He said the Environment Department was showing a “heartless disregard” for animal welfare.
The vets urged the Government to re-examine the culling policy to avoid animal suffering.