‘Super-ranger’ badgers may hold key to limiting spread of bovine TB

Some males may roam up to three times further than previously understood, scientists find

A team of zoologists, veterinarians and ecologists have discovered a new "super-ranging" behaviour in Irish badgers, which has major implications for implementing vaccination programmes to limit the spread of bovine tuberculosis. Video: TCD

 

Irish scientists have observed a pattern of “super-ranging” behaviour in badgers who venture far beyond their normal territories, which may be contributing to the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

Some males range up to three times more widely than is typical for other badgers, zoologists from Trinity College Dublin have discovered.

Around one in five males adopted this super-ranging behaviour, according to the TCD scientists, working with veterinarians and ecologists from the Department of Agriculture, Food and The Marine and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

In research published on Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, theyfound around one in five males adopted this super-ranging behaviour.

“Super rangers may be super spreaders of TB,” explained lead author Aoibheann Gaughran, a PhD researcher in Trinity’s school of natural sciences, “So they need to be identified, and these individuals need to be targeted with vaccines.”

“Badgers are a protected species and are one of Ireland’s most iconic wild creatures, but they can harbour TB and inadvertently transfer it to cattle. Infected cattle must be culled, which results in the loss of millions of euro each year in the agricultural sector, and can devastate individual farmers and their families.”

Culling the wild animals is not a sustainable solution, but vaccinating badgers against TB provides an option to mitigate these risks. However, scientists need to understand how badgers move around in the wild and to target those most likely to spread disease.

The Department announced recently it would be rolling out a national programme to vaccinate badgers in its efforts to eradicate TB.

The discovery was made on foot of a study evaluating the impact of an upgrade of the N11 in Co Wicklow on badger populations.

By using GPS satellite trackers the researchers were able to look at the nightly comings and goings of almost 50 badgers in the wild after they were enticed into traps with peanuts .

They found some males completely ignore the traditional territory boundaries. Instead, they range far into areas that encompass the territories of other social groups as well.