When Peg the beagle uncharacteristically went missing near Clonakilty last month, her owner knew something was amiss, as it was dinnertime. Calling local vets and animal shelters, Peg’s owner went through all the possible reasons for her disappearance, including being hit by a car and dogknappers; what she hadn’t dreamed could be the culprit was an illegal badger snare – a very real but very hidden danger in West Cork.
Thankfully, after six hours of searching nearby fields by torchlight, Peg was found in a snare, freezing cold and very distressed but with only superficial injuries. This type of snare is designed to not kill the badger but to trap it.
When traps are legally laid under licence from the Department of Agriculture, where there is a known TB infection in a cattle herd, they should be checked daily and the badgers then humanely killed.
However the trap that Peg was caught in — one of six found the next day in the immediate area — seems to have not been placed by the Department, and more worryingly, the landowner had no knowledge of its existence. The suspicion now is that the traps had in fact been laid to catch badgers for use in ‘Badger Baiting’, a sickeningly cruel and illegal ‘sport’ where badgers and dogs fight for ‘entertainment’.
When attacked, badgers become extremely defensive; their sharp claws and dangerous bite are capable of severely injuring the dogs that are pitted against them by humans. The fact that the badger is a strong animal with the stamina to keep fighting for its life is an ‘exciting gamble’ for the people involved in this cruel practice.
Usually before the fight, the badger has been harmed one way or another. His jaw or legs may be broken with a shovel or his tail staked to the ground to limit his ability to escape. He is forced into a pit or baiting arena where one or more dogs are released and continuously harass the badger. The fight ends when the badger can no longer fight back — which can be hours — and is then killed. The fight between the dogs and badger is vicious and both suffer from injuries. The injured dogs cannot be taken to a vet, who would report the owners to the Gardai, and so they are left to suffer in horrendous pain. Although they may lose their dog, badger baiters can make good money off people who are willing to make a bet on the outcome.
Like the owner of the fields where Peg was found, many farmers in West Cork have no idea that snares are being laid on their land. As well as potentially causing damage to the legs and hoofs of livestock, badgers caught without a farmer’s knowledge can actually leave the farm open to a TB infection.
When a badger is sick, other badgers in its sett drive it out. The sick animal then looks for a new home. When healthy animals are removed from farmland by these snares, the land is then left open for an infected animal to move in.
What can farmers do to help hinder this practice? Check your land for snares, particularly areas that are not in use at present. Made from 5mm galvanised wire, held in place by a stake driven deep into the ground, these snares are usually laid in hedgerows and scrub, with the noose propped up by a forked stick or a branch of gorse. It is quite easy at this time of year to spot them with the lack of leaf growth. When you find one, activate the snare with a sturdy stick before pulling up the stake and removing the snare. Keep checking the area, as there are likely to be more than one.
Laying these snares is a breach of Section 44 of the Wildlife Act, which makes it an offence for any person who is not the owner or occupier of land to carry onto that land, without permission, any instrument or device capable of being used for hunting a wild animal. Notify your local Garda Station and the Department of Agriculture with the details of where you found them.
It is unlikely that the snares will be laid again once the perpetrators realise that an area is being watched. By reducing the opportunity to lay snares you can contribute in a small way to helping the fight by Gardai and the ISPCA against this inhuman activity.
And remember, if your pet goes missing, check the locality for snares. Peg would not have survived the bitterly cold night if she had not been found in time.
West Cork People would like to thank to An Garda Siochana, the Department of Agriculture and local vets for information for this article.