From: Sarah Stirk, The Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published June 21, 2013 09:01 AM

Wildlife in the firing line in global war against bovine TB

Where there are cattle, there is the threat of bovine Tuberculosis (TB). The farming methods may differ greatly, but from the dairy farms of Ethiopia to the beef herds of Canada the race is on to find the best way to tackle the disease.

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In the 1920s control measures began in developed parts of the world. According to the World Organization for Animal Health, many countries have reduced or eliminated bovine TB from their cattle population; but infections remain in the UK, Western Europe, North America and New Zealand.

Methods of control including testing, monitoring of movement, vaccination, biosecurity, wildlife surveillance and culling vary across infected zones, with some practices proving more controversial than others.

Wildlife has been identified as a key carrier of the disease, and is accused of infecting cattle. The wild carrier of TB in France is the red deer, whilst the African buffalo, North American cervids and Spanish wild boar are all seen to be the enemy of family farms, intensive dairy units, and national economies.

In New Zealand, the Australian brush tailed possum (introduced in 1837 to establish a fur trade) has been the focus of an eradication programme that involves aerial drops of Sodium fluoroacetate (1080), a poison that is lethal to mammals, birds, insects, amphibians and other wild and domestic animals. It is disguised in food paste, and dropped from helicopters into areas believed to be dense with infected possums. 

The Animal Health Board in charge of the programme state that 'possums that eat a lethal amount of 1080 usually die of respiratory failure within 6-18 hours.' The government has seen a decline in the disease but states that there is 'still a relatively large problem' in New Zealand.

Closer to home, in the idyllic hills and pastures of The Republic of Ireland, as in the UK, the native badger has been named as the culprit. The culling of badgers has been underway in some capacity since 1997, and in its current form since 2004. Badgers, including lactating females with cubs, are snared and then shot at close range. Around 97,000 badgers have been culled since 1984 under the badger removal policy, with support from farmers and minimal public protest.

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