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TB study: No direct contact between badgers, cattle

Staff Writer |
New findings from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Imperial College London suggest that badgers and cattle rarely meet and that direct contact between the two is not a likely source of transmission of bovine TB.

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Badgers and cattle rarely come into direct contact, suggesting bovine TB must spread via contamination in the environmentThe stated aim of the badger culls, which began as pilots intended to trial "controlled shooting" of free running badgers in two areas of the South-West, but were expanded to include the more expensive trap-and-shoot and a new cull zone before the initial trial period had finished, was to reduce the "wildlife reservoir" of bovine TB in badgers.

The new research shows that while badgers do favour cattle pasture as a habitat, they typically avoid cattle themselves and rarely get close enough to transmit infection directly.

In the study, researchers used GPS collars to track the movements of badgers and cattle across 20 farms in Cornwall. They didn’t find a single incidence of badgers and cattle coming face to face and said that, if anything, badgers tended to avoid larger animals, preferring to keep 50m between themselves and cows.

They said that any bovine TB transmission between the species is likely to come from their shared environment - possibly from infected urine or faeces in pastures, possibly from other cattle as well as badgers - rather than direct contact.

Imperial College London researchers said their discovery means advice to farmers on controlling bTB may require a rethink and “paves the way for novel approaches to managing this controversial disease.”

The findings could shed light on just why bTB is so hard to control, even when badgers and cattle are being culled, because the bacteria that cause the disease can persist in the environment for months.

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