Belfast Telegraph

Exposed: the barbaric gangs who torture and kill badgers

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Caught on camera — a gang engaged in one of Northern Ireland’s most barbaric crimes.

The cruel thugs, believed to be from Belfast, were secretly photographed as they attacked an active badger sett at an undisclosed location in Northern Ireland.

They are among 20 prolific badger-baiting gangs identified during a two-year undercover operation by the USPCA and are believed to have gone out digging at least three times a week.

“These gangs are city-based criminals who travel from the urban areas into the countryside to dig badgers,” USPCA spokesman David Wilson told the Belfast Telegraph.

“They head into the countryside equipped for evil. Badgers are dragged from the sett into broad daylight and set upon by dogs in a foretaste of future suffering known as a ‘shake’.

“After a merciless mauling some of the traumatised creatures are returned to the sett to await the next session of torment. This time the badger’s fate is sealed and an agonising death is the inevitable outcome. Hundreds of badgers perish each year to satisfy the bloodlust of common criminals.

“The dogs used are mercilessly exploited by their owners. Many suffer horrendous injuries inflicted by badgers crazed by the dogs entering the sett. The dog’s face and lower jaw are exposed and vulnerable with open trauma and fragmentation of the lower jaw commonplace.”

In 2009/10 the National Wildlife Crime Unit recorded 49 badger persecution incidents in Northern Ireland — the most recorded by any UK police force.

Rural parts of counties Armagh, Down and Antrim are understood to be among the hot spots, with criminals using social networking sites to co-ordinate digs.

During their covert operation, the USPCA used a range of high-tech equipment, including an aerial drone fitted with a camera to record those involved in badger-baiting.

In this case the men fled, abandoning their terrier dog inside the sett minutes after the drone flew overhead. The badly injured animal was later recovered by USPCA officers. It had a radio transmitter fitted to its collar so the gang could track its movement underground and dig into the sett when it encountered a badger.

Badger-baiting happens in secluded, rural areas. The USPCA is hoping landowners who may have turned a blind eye to the illegal activity will now speak out.

Mr Wilson said: “If the evil of badger persecution is to be eradicated it is the responsibility of landowners to challenge or report gangs entering their farms.

“The Ulster Farmers’ Union and other farming bodies rightly advocate bio-security as a disease control measure for farms with livestock. Surely gangs of badger diggers and their dogs travelling in vehicles from farm to farm are a significant and obvious breach of this control.

“The statutory agencies must be proactive in preventing or prosecuting badger persecution. They have the necessary powers already in place. When the scale of suffering is publicly exposed the community will not tolerate inaction.

“The rural community need to be vigilant. Gangs of men with dogs and shovels are not invisible, give the statutory agencies PSNI and Environment Agency the information and they are required to act.”

Factfile

Badgers and their setts are protected by law. It is an offence to disturb these animals, obstruct access to their place of refuge, or destroy or damage anything which conceals or protects a sett.

In January the PSNI and USPCA carried out searches in the Banbridge, Gilford, Lawrencetown and Rostrevor areas and arrested two men in connection with alleged badger-baiting.

Nine dogs were seized. The USPCA said successful prosecutions are “virtually unheard of”.

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