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Concept: Badger


Badgers are involved in the transmission to cattle of bovine tuberculosis (TB), a serious problem for the UK farming industry. Cross-sectional studies have shown an association between bite wounds and TB infection in badgers which may have implications for M. bovis transmission and control, although the sequence of these two events is unclear. Transmission during aggressive encounters could potentially reduce the effectiveness of policies which increase the average range of a badger and thus its opportunities for interaction with other social groups.

Concepts: Tuberculosis, Mycobacterium, Cattle, Mycobacterium bovis, Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, Tuberculosis treatment, Badger


We monitored the ranging of a wild European badger (Meles meles) population over 7 years using GPS tracking collars. Badger range sizes varied seasonally and reached their maximum in June, July and August. We analysed the summer ranging behaviour, using 83 home range estimates from 48 individuals over 6974 collar-nights. We found that while most adult badgers (males and females) remained within their own traditional social group boundaries, several male badgers (on average 22%) regularly ranged beyond these traditional boundaries. These adult males frequently ranged throughout two (or more) social group’s traditional territories and had extremely large home ranges. We therefore refer to them as super-rangers. While ranging across traditional boundaries has been recorded over short periods of time for extraterritorial mating and foraging forays, or for pre-dispersal exploration, the animals in this study maintained their super-ranges from 2 to 36 months. This study represents the first time such long-term extra-territorial ranging has been described for European badgers. Holding a super-range may confer an advantage in access to breeding females, but could also affect local interaction networks. In Ireland & the UK, badgers act as a wildlife reservoir for bovine tuberculosis (TB). Super-ranging may facilitate the spread of disease by increasing both direct interactions between conspecifics, particularly across social groups, and indirect interactions with cattle in their shared environment. Understanding super-ranging behaviour may both improve our understanding of tuberculosis epidemiology and inform future control strategies.

Concepts: Male, Tuberculosis, Sex, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers, Asian Badger


Wildlife is a global source of endemic and emerging infectious diseases. The control of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle in Britain and Ireland is hindered by persistent infection in wild badgers (Meles meles). Vaccination with Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) has been shown to reduce the severity and progression of experimentally induced TB in captive badgers. Analysis of data from a four-year clinical field study, conducted at the social group level, suggested a similar, direct protective effect of BCG in a wild badger population. Here we present new evidence from the same study identifying both a direct beneficial effect of vaccination in individual badgers and an indirect protective effect in unvaccinated cubs. We show that intramuscular injection of BCG reduced by 76% (Odds ratio = 0.24, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.11-0.52) the risk of free-living vaccinated individuals testing positive to a diagnostic test combination to detect progressive infection. A more sensitive panel of tests for the detection of infection per se identified a reduction of 54% (Odds ratio = 0.46, 95% CI 0.26-0.88) in the risk of a positive result following vaccination. In addition, we show the risk of unvaccinated badger cubs, but not adults, testing positive to an even more sensitive panel of diagnostic tests decreased significantly as the proportion of vaccinated individuals in their social group increased (Odds ratio = 0.08, 95% CI 0.01-0.76; P = 0.03). When more than a third of their social group had been vaccinated, the risk to unvaccinated cubs was reduced by 79% (Odds ratio = 0.21, 95% CI 0.05-0.81; P = 0.02).

Concepts: Immune system, Infectious disease, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers


Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a very important disease of cattle in Great Britain, where it has been increasing in incidence and geographical distribution. In addition to cattle, it infects other species of domestic and wild animals, in particular the European badger (Meles meles). Policy to control bTB is vigorously debated and contentious because of its implications for the livestock industry and because some policy options involve culling badgers, the most important wildlife reservoir. This paper describes a project to provide a succinct summary of the natural science evidence base relevant to the control of bTB, couched in terms that are as policy-neutral as possible. Each evidence statement is placed into one of four categories describing the nature of the underlying information. The evidence summary forms the appendix to this paper and an annotated bibliography is provided in the electronic supplementary material.

Concepts: Natural environment, Cattle, Nature, Wildlife, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers


Bovine TB (bTB) is endemic in Irish cattle and has eluded eradication despite considerable expenditure, amid debate over the relative roles of badgers and cattle in disease transmission. Using a comprehensive dataset from Northern Ireland (>10,000 km(2); 29,513 cattle herds), we investigated interactions between host populations in one of the first large-scale risk factor analyses for new herd breakdowns to combine data on both species. Cattle risk factors (movements, international imports, bTB history, neighbours with bTB) were more strongly associated with herd risk than area-level measures of badger social group density, habitat suitability or persecution (sett disturbance). Highest risks were in areas of high badger social group density and high rates of persecution, potentially representing both responsive persecution of badgers in high cattle risk areas and effects of persecution on cattle bTB risk through badger social group disruption. Average badger persecution was associated with reduced cattle bTB risk (compared with high persecution areas), so persecution may contribute towards sustaining bTB hotspots; findings with important implications for existing and planned disease control programmes.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Risk, Tuberculosis, Factor analysis, Cattle, Mycobacterium bovis, Ireland, Badger


SUMMARY The European badger (Meles meles) has been identified as a wildlife reservoir of bovine tuberculosis and a source of transmission to cattle in Britain and Ireland. Both behavioural ecology and statistical ecological modelling have indicated the long-term persistence of the disease in some badger communities, and this is postulated to account for the high incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle across large tracts of England and Wales. This paper questions this consensus by using historical cartographic evidence to show that tuberculosis in cattle had a very different spatial distribution before 1960 to the present day. Since few of the badgers collected in road traffic accidents between 1972 and 1990 had tuberculosis in counties such as Cheshire, where the disease had until shortly before that been rife in the cattle population, the role of badgers as reservoirs in spreading disease in similar counties outside the south-west of England has to be questioned.

Concepts: Time, United Kingdom, Cattle, Ireland, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers


In the UK and Ireland, Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination of badgers has been suggested as one of a number of strategies to control or even eradicate Mycobacterium bovis infection in badgers. In this manuscript, we present the results of a badger field trial conducted in Ireland and discuss how the novel trial design and analytical methods allowed the effects of vaccination on protection against infection and, more importantly, on transmission to be estimated. The trial area was divided into three zones North to South (A, B and C) where vaccination coverages of 0, 50 and 100%, respectively, were applied. Badgers were trapped over a 4year period. Badgers were assigned to either placebo or vaccine treatment, with treatment allocation occurring randomly in zone B. Blood samples were collected at each capture, and serology was performed in these samples using a chemiluminescent multiplex ELISA system (Enfer test). The analysis aimed to compare new infections occurring in non-infected non-vaccinated badgers to those in non-infected vaccinated ones, while accounting for the zone in which the badger was trapped and the infection pressure to which this individual badger was exposed. In total, 440 records on subsequent trappings of individual non-infected badgers were available for analysis. Over the study period, 55 new infections occurred in non-vaccinated (out of 239=23.0%) and 40 in vaccinated (out of 201=19.9%) badgers. A Generalized Linear Model (GLM) with a cloglog link function was used for analysis. Statistical analysis showed that susceptibility to natural exposure with M. bovis was reduced in vaccinated compared to placebo treated badgers: vaccine efficacy for susceptibility, VES, was 59% (95% CI=6.5%-82%). However, a complete lack of effect from BCG vaccination on the infectivity of vaccinated badgers was observed, i.e. vaccine efficacy for infectiousness (VEI) was 0%. Further, the basic reproduction ratio as a function of vaccination coverage (p) (i.e. R(p)) was estimated. Given that the prevalence of M. bovis infection in badgers in endemic areas in Ireland is approximately 18%, we estimated the reproduction ratio in the unvaccinated population as R(0)=1.22. Because VES was now known, the reproduction ratio for a fully vaccinated population was estimated as R(1)=0.50. These results imply that with vaccination coverage in badgers exceeding 30%, eradication of M. bovis in badgers in Ireland is feasible, provided that the current control measures also remain in place.

Concepts: Immune system, Statistics, Malaria, Vaccine, Tuberculosis, Mycobacterium bovis, Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, Badger


In the United Kingdom, European badgers Meles meles are a protected species and an important wildlife reservoir of bovine tuberculosis. We conducted a survey of badger dens (main setts) in 1614 1 km squares across England and Wales, between November 2011 and March 2013. Using main setts as a proxy for badger social groups, the estimated mean density of badger social groups in England and Wales was 0.485 km(-2) (95% confidence interval 0.449-0.521) and the estimated abundance of social groups was 71,600 (66,400-76,900). In the 25 years since the first survey in 1985-88, the annual rate of increase in the estimated number of badger social groups was 2.6% (2.2-2.9%), equating to an 88% (70-105%) increase across England and Wales. In England, we estimate there has been an increase of 103% (83-123%) in badger social groups, while in Wales there has been little change (-25 to +49%).

Concepts: Statistics, United Kingdom, England, Wales, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers


Bovine tuberculosis is an important disease affecting the UK livestock industry. Controlling bovine tuberculosis (TB) is made more complex by the presence of a wildlife host, the Eurasian badger, Meles meles. Repeated large-scale badger culls implemented in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) were associated with decreased cattle risks inside the culling area, but also with increased cattle risks up to the 2km outside the culling area. Intermediate reductions in badger density, as achieved by localised reactive culling in the RBCT, significantly increased cattle TB. Using a matched-pairs case-control study design (n = 221 pairs of cattle herds), we investigated the spatial scale over which localised badger culling had its biggest impact. We found that reactive badger culling had a significant positive association with the risk of cattle TB at distances of 1-3km and 3-5km, and that no such association existed over shorter distances (<1km). These findings indicate that localised badger culls had significant negative effects, not on the land on which culling took place, but, perhaps more importantly, on adjoining lands and farms.

Concepts: Tuberculosis, Cattle, Case-control study, Study design, Livestock, Badger, European Badger, Meles


Effective management of biological resources is contingent upon stakeholder compliance with rules. With respect to disease management, partial compliance can undermine attempts to control diseases within human and wildlife populations. Estimating non-compliance is notoriously problematic as rule-breakers may be disinclined to admit to transgressions. However, reliable estimates of rule-breaking are critical to policy design. The European badger (Meles meles) is considered an important vector in the transmission and maintenance of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle herds. Land managers in high bTB prevalence areas of the UK can cull badgers under license. However, badgers are also known to be killed illegally. The extent of illegal badger killing is currently unknown. Herein we report on the application of three innovative techniques (Randomized Response Technique (RRT); projective questioning (PQ); brief implicit association test (BIAT)) for investigating illegal badger killing by livestock farmers across Wales. RRT estimated that 10.4% of farmers killed badgers in the 12 months preceding the study. Projective questioning responses and implicit associations relate to farmers' badger killing behavior reported via RRT. Studies evaluating the efficacy of mammal vector culling and vaccination programs should incorporate estimates of non-compliance. Mitigating the conflict concerning badgers as a vector of bTB requires cross-disciplinary scientific research, departure from deep-rooted positions, and the political will to implement evidence-based management.

Concepts: Management, Cattle, Mustelidae, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers, Asian Badger