Badger deaths close to Belfast estate blamed on 'sadists' and their killer dogs
Sick criminals are thought to be targeting families of badgers on the outskirts of Belfast after a number of dead animals were found.
Police say they have received a number of reports of dead badgers in the Four Winds area of Castlereagh and it seems likely people were involved in their deaths.
PSNI Castlereagh appealed to people who notice suspicious activity such as vehicles and people with dogs and digging tools, often after dark, to get in touch.
"Some of this activity has recently taken place in countryside beside new residential developments and residents may not have realised what is happening," a PSNI spokesman posted on Facebook.
"If in doubt, please call it in.
"It comes after a badly injured badger was found with a rope tied around its neck at the side of the Annadorn Road near Downpatrick."
Local officers said the animal, which showed obvious signs of fighting or badger-baiting, died soon afterwards.
The Northern Ireland Badger Group branded the culprits "twisted cowards" and called for the "sadistic badger-baiters" to be caught, jailed and banned from owning animals for life.
Spokesman Peter Clarke said the sows are with cubs at this time of year.
"In Northern Ireland, the badger-baiting used to be just in the winter, but it now seems to be at any time of year," he said.
"They are doing it now when the mothers are out teaching the young ones to forage. The cubs are just coming out of their setts now.
"The mothers would be very protective of their cubs and these people do target the mothers because they are going to fight for their cubs."
Mr Clarke said people living in Castlereagh may not be aware what is going on.
"A lot of people would be ignorant and wouldn't know what was happening, unless they heard the noises involved along with it," he said.
"The badgers make a very distressful scream but people probably wouldn't know what it is.
"If they're out at night they're lamping badgers.
"They just lamp the animal and set the dogs on it.
"It's not a sport at all.
"It's sadism to gain pleasure from the distress of any animal."
Mr Clarke said badgers forage very close to their setts but the locations of the setts are very well known to the criminals.
"When we are out checking setts we notice setts that are in the middle of nowhere and have been interfered with," he said.
"I think landowners are frightened of these people.
"But from our experience the police are determined to crack down on them," he added.
"What people need to do is report in a timely and accurate way to the PSNI.
"The police don't have the time to chase shadows in the countryside.
"It needs to be reported very, very quickly.
"There is potential through the Animal Welfare Bill 2011 for people to receive five years in prison for this sort of activity and that is for the cruelty to the dogs alone.
"We want to see stiff sentencing for this."
Posting on its Facebook page, a spokesman for PSNI Castlereagh said it is a criminal offence to interfere with any badger or their sett.
"Badger-baiting involves using dogs to fight badgers and often injuring the badger first to improve the odds of the dog winning," he said.
"This will invariably lead to the badger's cruel and horrific death."