Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Badger group disruption aids TB flow

Badgers with TB spread the infection more easily to other badgers and to cattle when social groups are disturbed, a new study confirms.

Vaccination has the potential to reduce the spread of infection without disturbing local populations, scientists report in Current Biology.

The findings help explain why culling badgers can cause TB infection in cattle to rise, as infected badgers roam into new territory, they say.

Pilot culls are underway in England.

Badgers are being culled in west Somerset; with a decision due shortly on whether to extend a pilot cull in west Gloucestershire.

In the study, researchers at the University of Exeter and the National Wildlife Management Centre at Woodchester Park, Gloucestershire, fitted 51 badgers in eight different social groups with electronic collars.

They monitored the range of the wild badgers and their social interactions over the course of a year.

The researchers were able to build a detailed picture of the social network of a wild population of badgers for the first time.

We think of badgers as living in tight knit social groups and "sleeping in a big heap underground", but there is more complexity to it, said Prof Robbie McDonald of the University of Exeter, who led the study.

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