Vet Ethics: A badger brouhaha

The badger is one of those animals to have shuffled its way into the human imagination. My first exposure to badger folklore was when my father told me that a harassed badger could be uncommonly fierce, and that, like a wolverine or a Tasmanian Devil, he packed a punch beyond his diminutive size. This idea of a small British creature taking on large dogs, or even wolves and bears, appealed to a young boy’s imagination.

Around the same time, I read about Badger from Wind in the Willows. Badger was short-tempered, intimidating, and did not suffer fools gladly – the fool, of course, being Mr Toad. Bill Murray’s badger character from the recent Fantastic Mr Fox film fought – or “cussed” – with George Clooney’s Mr Fox. Badgers have also featured in stories by Richard Adams, Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, and in an episode of The Simpsons.

Badgers have been eaten and used for their pelts in various parts of the world. Until the 1800s, they were subject to baiting in the UK. Things have somewhat changed. Now badgers in Britain (the European badger is called Meles Meles) have greater security in the form of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which prescribes criminal penalties for harming or killing the animals. Prior to that, they were gassed in their setts to prevent the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB).

As I write, badgers are once again in the news in the UK. Brian May has just led a demonstration in London against the Tory Government’s plan to cull some of them. May, from the rock group Queen, released a very Queen-esque snippet – a short song of protest called Badger, Badger, Badger. This old rocker is an eloquent spokesperson for the anti-cull side. He is joined by Bill Oddie, for many years an enthusiastic advocate for wild British creatures. Oddie is now looking as fiercely resolute as a wounded badger. Some other celebrities, plus the Badger Trust and the RSPCA, are similarly set against the cull. Continue reading Vet Ethics: A badger brouhaha

Source sought for Taronga’s TB

Pak Boon and Tukta in 2010 (Picture: Bobby-Jo Vial)An expert panel led by NSW Health is continuing work to determine the source of a tuberculosis (TB) outbreak at Taronga Zoo.

In February media reported the TB diagnosis of Pak Boon, one of Taronga’s elephants.

In September Taronga issued a statement on its website which said a male chimp with the disease had been euthanased.

There have been no public health warnings about the presence of the disease at Taronga, drawing criticism from NSW Greens MP John Kaye, who said potential visitors to Taronga were denied the right to evaluate the risk of infection.

“The elephants and the chimps are in enclosures that are 50 metres apart, and there are two public walkways in between,” Kaye said.

“It is possible there is a risk to humans; not a great risk, but I think NSW Health and the zoo are making it impossible for clients to make their own assessments.”

Kaye has called on Health Minister Jillian Skinner to force the zoo to warn visitors of the presence of TB in two species, and therefore the possibility that the infection spread from one to the other.

He added that he is particularly concerned about school groups.

“Teachers and principals have to sign off on the well-being of children without being given full information, so I will continue to put pressure on NSW Health,” Kaye said.

“Australia has an excellent track record for infection control regarding TB, and it would be a terrible thing to compromise that record to support the profitability of the zoo.”

Taronga Media Relations Manager, Mark Williams, denied that profits have been put before public health. Continue reading Source sought for Taronga’s TB

Call for new thinking on disease prediction and planning

A University of Adelaide scientist says much more could be done to predict the likelihood and spread of serious disease – such as tuberculosis (TB) or foot-and-mouth disease – in Australian wildlife and commercial stock.

Corey Bradshaw and colleagues have evaluated freely available software tools that provide a realistic prediction of the spread of disease among animals.

They used a combination of models to look at the possible spread of TB among feral water buffalo in the Northern Territory.

In the 1980s and 1990s the government of the time began a broad-scale culling program, culling tens of thousands of buffalo.

“The cull successfully reduced or eradicated buffalo from major pastoral lands in the Northern Territory, taking tuberculosis with it, but since then there has been no major follow-up culling. The buffalo population is re-invading the formerly culled areas,” Bradshaw, Director of Ecological Modelling at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, said.

“Although Australia now trades its livestock under the ‘TB-free’ banner, the disease is prevalent throughout Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Realistically, it’s only a matter of time before it rears its ugly head again here. If it does, it could potentially cost our cattle industry billions of dollars.” Continue reading Call for new thinking on disease prediction and planning