< > Glossary & References / Miscellaneous Documents List / B152 Problems with Badgers? Third Revised Edition 1994 / Text Sections:
7. INJURED BADGERS
caught in snares
Under section 11 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to deliberately snare a badger, except under special licence. The use of self-locking snares for any animal is illegal (fig.16); a self-locking snare is one which continues to tighten as the animal struggles to escape and will not slacken off. Snares should never be set on a badger run or in an area of known badger activity. Any person setting a snare in a position where it is likely to catch a badger may be guilty of an offence even though the aim was to catch a fox or other lawful quarry species. An offence would be committed if all reasonable precautions were not taken to prevent injury to protected and domestic animals. Snares are required by law to be inspected at least once every 24 hours, and twice a day would be preferable. Where reasonable precautions appear not to have been taken, the snare should be rendered harmless (without damaging it) and its location reported to the police and the RSPCA, SSPCA or USPCA, or the snare can be removed and taken to the nearest police station. The RSPCA and the National Federation of Badger Groups are currently undertaking a snare incident survey and all incidents (whatever the species involved) should be reported on one of their forms - see Appendix.
When a badger is caught in a snare, it is important that it is released as soon as possible, since badgers are powerful animals and can injure themselves extensively during their attempts to escape. Great care must be taken when trying to release badgers from snares; they are difficult to handle and can easily inflict severe injuries on anyone trying to release them. Also, they are often caught round the middle, which means that their head is still free and able to bite! It is important therefore to restrain the animal's head, either with a dog grasper (available from M D C Products Ltd or any other supplier of animal equipment - see Chapter 11. Useful Addresses) or a strong forked stick, which can be used to pin the animal to the ground by the neck. If you use a dog grasper, always use the 'quick release' type illustrated in fig. 17, since it can be difficult, and sometimes dangerous, to release a badger from an ordinary grasper. It may be useful to carry a piece of broom handle (about a metre long) for the badger to bite whilst you slip the grasper on; otherwise it may bite the noose and not let go. Alternatively, the animal may be restrained by a coat with its head in the sleeve, or by rolling it in a rug, making sure its teeth remain occupied by biting a stick or roll of cloth. Another technique is to use a garden fork to restrain a badger in a snare, but only when the animal is caught by the neck. With the fork, manoeuvre the animal to the full length of the snare and placing the fork over the snare, pin the animal to the ground so that it is unable to move. Once the animal is securely held, the snare can be cut.
Usually a snare holding a badger is badly twisted and cutting it is the easiest way to release the animal; a pair of very strong wire cutters are best for this job, since snare wire is multi-stranded and very difficult to cut with tin snips or pliers. It is also very important to cut the noose that is around the animal's body rather than cut the length of wire between the noose and the fence or stake (fig. 18). Badgers can be difficult to restrain with a dog grasper and if you cut the wire attached to the fence or stake first you stand a considerable chance of the badger escaping before you can remove the noose from its body. If the snare wire is deeply embedded in the animal's fur or skin, it may be necessary to work the snare loose before it can be cut or the badger worked free. If you have nothing with which to cut the wire, work your hand along the snare to feel if there is a self-locking device, turn it (or the badger) so that the wire has no kink in it, then push the wire through the locking device until the noose is big enough to slide back beyond the badger's tail. The ease with which this can be done largely depends on how long the badger has been in the snare, and hence how exhausted it is.
If a badger has been in a snare for a while, it may have received serious injuries and not be fit for immediate release. It should therefore be secured in a carrying cage lined with newspaper or straw. The design for a home-made cage is shown in fig. 19; alternatively a commercially available basket measuring 60x40 centimetres and 30 centimetres high can be used. These are made of plastic coated wire and are available from any supplier of animal equipment (see Chapter 11. Useful Addresses). It is important that whatever type of carrying cage is used, the mesh is as small as possible and no larger than 5.0x2.5 centimetres. This minimises the chance of the animal breaking its teeth by biting the wire. The car should also be lined with plenty of newspaper to collect waste products! If a basket is not available, the badger can be put in a strong wooden box or a plastic dustbin and taken to a veterinary surgeon for treatment. If the animal was held by a snare around the chest or a leg, the injuries may be unpleasant to look at but probably are fairly superficial lesions. In such cases the animal should be treated with long-acting antibiotics, the wounds cleaned and possibly sutured with dissolving sutures, and the animal released as soon as possible. Methods of release are described in 7.6 .
Before you release a badger that has been in captivity (even for a short period), it is important that you seek advice from the RSPCA, SSPCA or the USPCA, or a veterinary surgeon if you know one who has had experience with badgers or other wild animals. It is particularly important to realise that badgers are wild animals and periods of captivity are likely to induce considerable stress. Often it may be best to release the animal as soon as possible, especially if the lesions are superficial. Wild badgers frequently suffer quite severe injuries during fights with other badgers, but these normally heal naturally without any problem. In those cases where a badger has received only superficial injuries in a snare, it is only necessary to ensure that the animal has been treated with long-acting antibiotics, is well-fed and fully mobile prior to release. However, if in any doubt about the extent of the injuries, always err on the side of caution and delay releasing the animal.
Whilst superficial injuries rarely cause a problem, it is much more difficult to assess the extent of internal injuries received by an animal snared round the abdomen. The noose may have closed to a diameter of 10 centimetres or less, holding the animal just in front of the pelvis. In such cases internal injuries to the bladder and intestines are common; in females the reproductive tract may also be damaged. For an animal snared in such a way, seek veterinary advice. To ascertain the extent of its injuries, it may be necessary to hold the badger in captivity for a few days until it has stopped passing blood in its urine and faeces. For sows it is very difficult to be absolutely positive that there is no permanent damage to the reproductive tract, but it would be unusual for the bladder and intestines to recover their full functions whilst the reproductive tract does not. Therefore once the animal is urinating and defecating normally it is best to release it as soon as possible.
Many badgers are injured on the roads each year, particularly in the spring. The first problem may be to catch an injured animal. Some badgers will crawl away after being injured; if they can make it back to the sett, then they are 'lost' and should be left to recover naturally or die. Never try to excavate a sett to recover an injured badger. An animal that cannot make its own way back to its sett will either have very serious injuries or concussion. In either case it is an extremely dangerous animal to handle. Never touch or approach an injured badger unless you are certain you know what to do. If in doubt telephone the RSPCA, SSPCA or USPCA, who will either attend themselves or arrange for a veterinary surgeon to come out. Some local Badger Groups or wildlife hospitals run a twenty-four hour badger rescue service, and the RSPCA, SSPCA or USPCA or the police should know how to contact these. If you are worried that an injured badger may crawl away before help can arrive, then an upturned dustbin, wooden box or similar object should be placed over the badger, and this secured with a heavy weight or by sitting on it. In the dark the animal will usually remain calm until help arrives.
Remember that although the law allows you to take an injured or incapacitated badger into captivity for the purpose of care and attention without the need for a licence, this only applies to situations where the animal can be picked up 'by hand' or similar 'device'. If the badger is sufficiently mobile to run away from the scene of the accident so that it is necessary to trap it later, then the law still requires you to obtain a licence from the relevant Statutory Nature Conservation Agency, unless you set a trap in such a way as to ensure that the chance of catching another badger was low (see 3.2.2 Chapter 3. Badgers and the Law). Otherwise, even though you are trying to catch the badger for welfare reasons, it would still be illegal. So if you are in doubt about the legal position, or in a real emergency, telephone or even fax the licensing section of the relevant Statutory Nature Conservation Agency, and if a licence is needed one will be issued quickly.
If when you arrive at the scene of an accident the badger appears to be dead or unconscious, first gently prod the animal a couple of times with a stick. Severe injuries have been inflicted by an apparently dead badger biting someone attempting to pick it up. When trying to handle an injured badger, always secure it with a dog grasper round the neck (fig. 20), then take hold of its rump or tail (you may find it easier to have a second person to do this), and lift it into a carrying cage or dustbin. Never try to lift a badger by the dog grasper alone. If the animal has severe neck injuries, then it may have to be lifted by the tail alone, but this should only be attempted by an experienced person; it is a risky operation for the person, and if the badger struggles it may dislocate its tail. Injured badgers can also be lifted by rolling them into a blanket, or by a fore-and-aft grip on the back (fig. 20), but again these should never be attempted by inexperienced people. If the animal is very weak, then an experienced person may be able to grab it by the scruff of the neck, but always keep a stout stick or similar object between your hand and the animal's mouth, just in case it is more alert than you think. Never travel with an animal, even an unconscious one, loose in the car. A badger in an open-fronted basket should be covered with a blanket or towel, since it will remain calmer in the dark.
Occasionally, passing motorists will pick up badly injured or comatose badgers, and take them to the police, a local wildlife sanctuary, or to a veterinary surgeon. If that badger recovers, it must be released at the exact point at which it was injured, and not just anywhere that 'looks suitable' or even 'roughly where it came from'. It is vital therefore that anyone who brings in an injured badger is asked to explain precisely where it was found, and preferably to draw a sketch map to identify the exact spot. Should the badger be passed to a wildlife sanctuary or similar place to recover, the information should be passed with it to ensure that it is released at the correct location. The procedures for release are described in 7.6.
Once in captivity, always seek veterinary advice on how to treat the badger. Remember that badgers are wild animals that normally seek to avoid humans and dogs. To bring an animal into captivity, in very close proximity to a lot of people, is a very stressful experience. This stress is compounded in a veterinary surgery or animal hospital where the badger is surrounded by the smell and sound of dogs. It is difficult for us to assess the additional trauma induced by captivity, but it is likely to be considerable. With an injured badger, it is not always humane to perform complex operations that are routine on a domestic animal, and humane destruction of a seriously injured badger may be the most preferable course of action. Do not assume that you have to try to save every injured animal, and remember that humane destruction is a positive course of action to prevent suffering, not a defeatist response. A useful booklet on badger first aid, entitled The Care, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Badgers is available from The Wildlife Hospital Trust see Chapter 11. Useful Addresses.
Remember also that it is only realistic to treat an animal if you can render it fit for return to the wild. Animals that are unlikely ever to be fit for release should be humanely destroyed as soon as possible. Furthermore, it is important that an injured badger is released as soon as possible, to maximise its chance of acceptance back into its social group. Hence if its treatment will of necessity take some time, then it may be more humane to destroy the badger at once. It is difficult to give guidance on how long it will be before the animal is rejected by its social group, or its ability to reintegrate into the wild population significantly reduced, but it may be a surprisingly short period of time. Below is a brief summary of the major types of injuries received by badgers, and the best sort of treatment.
If the animal is concussed, it should be kept in captivity in a quiet, darkened pen and observed for a few days. Badgers have a very strong skull, which is reinforced in older animals with a ridge of bone along the cranium. This bony ridge helps protect the animal's skull and most concussed badgers do make a full recovery. They should be released as soon as possible. If the animal receives a more permanent injury to the brain, which may be exhibited by repeated head shaking, walking in circles, carrying its head on one side, marked aversion to light, excessive salivation or excessive aggression, the animal should be humanely destroyed. It is counterproductive to release an animal that is behaving abnormally, in the hope that it will get better in time, since it could become a 'rogue' animal causing damage or be disruptive to otherwise viable badger social groups.
If a road-injured badger is found immobile but conscious with no obvious external injury, then it may have received extensive muscle injuries, temporary or permanent spinal injuries, or an internal haemorrhage. An animal with muscle or temporary spinal injuries will usually recover without any treatment, but if progress is not pronounced after two weeks, then the animal is usually best destroyed. Minor internal haemorrhages can be treated by a veterinary surgeon, but more extensive haemorrhages are usually associated with damage to major organs such as the liver, kidneys, spleen or intestines, and again it is usually more humane to destroy the animal.
Broken bones can prove difficult to treat; badgers are powerful and easily remove splints, and forelegs can be particularly difficult to set properly, since the animal may make repeated escape attempts when in confinement. The other problem with broken bones is that the period of rehabilitation prior to release may last several weeks. A sow with pelvic injuries should be automatically destroyed, since even if it is treated, there is the likelihood of problems occurring should the animal become pregnant. Sterilising a wild animal prior to release should not be considered, since this may affect its behaviour so that it cannot integrate properly with other wild badgers. Also, experiences with other species have shown that sterilised females grow larger because they do not experience the annual energy drain faced by females that breed each year. For social species, sterilised females often become dominant, and inhibit or prevent other females in the group breeding. Since badgers live in social groups in which the dominant sow suppresses breeding in the other sows, it is quite feasible for a sterilised female to become dominant and prevent the social group producing any cubs. This is clearly detrimental to the long-term survival of that group of badgers.
Advice on how to keep badgers in captivity prior to their release is given in 7.4 and 7.5. The most important considerations are that all captive badgers must be kept away from dogs, should be disturbed as little as possible, kept in a shaded pen and fed at dusk to ensure that they maintain a nocturnal pattern of activity. It is most important that captivity-induced stress is kept to an absolute minimum.
Badgers live in social groups that defend a joint territory, and all members of the social group play a role in defence of the territory. Badgers also fight with members of their own social group to establish their status within that group, and fights both between social groups and with other members of the same group can be severe. Fights between badgers can result in extensive bite and possibly claw wounding, usually to the rump or neck, and they may tear off large pieces of skin and underlying musculature, leaving large open wounds. These look very unpleasant, but are rarely as bad as they first appear. They are often reported by inexperienced people as the results of 'badger baiting', but are in fact perfectly normal. Although it is difficult to generalise, dog bites generally are to the side of the badger's face, neck, or around the base of the tail and groin. To the inexperienced, it may be difficult to tell dog and badger bite wounds apart. Bite-wounding is only rarely a cause of debility in itself, but animals from road or other accidents may also have extensive bite wounds.
Following treatment with antibiotics and cleaning the wounds, with some suturing where necessary, most badgers suffering from bite wounding are ready for release at most in a few days. The dilemma is where to release the badger. When an animal is taken in from the wild, it is usually impossible to determine whether the bite wounds were received from another member of the same social group, or from a territorial dispute with a badger from a neighbouring group. If the injuries were inflicted by a member of the same social group, then releasing the animal back on its own territory may result in further injuries. However, if the injuries were received from a badger in a neighbouring group, then releasing the badger back on its original territory is unlikely to result in repeat injuries unless the animal makes another excursion across the territorial boundary. This is usually an insoluble dilemma; our advice is to release the badger exactly where it was found, as described in 7.6. If the animal is being attacked by members of its own social group, then it will probably move away soon of its own accord and it is best to let the badger itself decide when and where to move. However, if you needlessly release the animal at a new site, then you are doing it a big disservice. Its chances of survival are likely to be reduced in a strange territory.
Badgers are powerful and potentially dangerous animals when confined, restrained or in distress. Never try to tame one, never try to keep one as a pet, and always be very wary about handling a badger, however sick or debilitated you think it might be. Always handle a captive badger with a dog grasper, and use a dog grasper or forked stick to restrain an injured wild badger.
It may sometimes be necessary to anaesthetise a badger to determine the extent of its injuries, but remember that the Medicines Act 1968 restricts the people who can administer an anaesthetic to a badger, and this should only be done by a veterinary surgeon or other prescribed person. To anaesthetise badgers, ketamine hydrochloride administered intramuscularly at a dose rate of 20 milligrams/kilogram is suitable (boars average 10.5 kilograms, sows 9.0 kilograms, although weights can be very variable), but remember that a stressed or badly injured animal may require a higher dose; incremental doses of ketamine hydrochloride can be given until, the required degree of anaesthesia is achieved. Normally, induction is fairly rapid, taking one to five minutes, whilst recovery is gradual, taking up to three hours, with a phase of disorientation and uncoordinated movements. During the recovery phase it is important to keep the animal secure and quiet, preferably in a dark room or cage, and it should have plenty of straw bedding.
When keeping an injured badger in captivity for short periods, a strong cage is required. Avoid a mesh size larger than 5.0 x 2.5 centimetres, since with larger meshes both teeth and claw injuries may result from an animal trying to escape. However, a garage, loose-box or a shed with a solid floor can be used temporarily, when a box on its side should be provided for shelter, and the floor covered with straw. An old car tyre filled with cat litter or soil may be used by the badger as a latrine, making it easier to keep the pen clean. Whenever possible, a wild badger should be kept in a quiet place away from other animals, particularly dogs, since their proximity will cause a great deal of stress. It is a good general principal that stress for a captive badger should be kept to an absolute minimum and, except when being fed or examined, the badger should be left alone and viewing by visitors prevented. Badgers must not be habituated to people, since this will reduce their chance of survival when returned to the wild.
It is also important to try to maintain their nocturnal regime, particularly when the animal is in captivity for a long period. This should be achieved by minimising disturbance during the day, feeding the animal at dusk and, if it is housed in an open fronted pen, keeping the front covered with sacking. Injured badgers may be very, inactive or even comatose, sometimes for a number of days, often only waking occasionally to drink or feed. This is not unusual, but if this behaviour continues for more than a few days, a veterinary surgeon must be consulted. Captive badgers need a supply of fresh water, and a list of suitable food items is given in 8.4 Chapter 8. Rehabilitating Badgers.
In captivity badgers are liable to contract diseases from domestic animals. Badgers are prone to parvo-virus, leptospirosis and possibly distemper, and should be vaccinated against these diseases. A combined vaccine is available and you should consult your veterinary surgeon. As a matter of course, wild animals should be kept away from domestic animals to minimise the chance of infection. To release an animal with a debilitating or fatal disease is irresponsible, since the released animal is liable to pass the infection to other badgers.
In several sections we have noted that badgers may have to be retained in captivity for long periods. Then the emergency housing described above is inadequate, particularly if the animal is healthy, active and growing. For long-term accommodation a larger and more substantial pen with a small artificial sett will need to be constructed. Also, the fencing will need to be stronger than that used for deterring badgers from crossing roads (5.2.2 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way) because it will be subjected to far more intensive wear from the captive badger(s). Clearly such a pen is expensive to construct, but since long-term accommodation is only needed infrequently, one pen could be constructed and shared by several Badger Groups or wildlife rehabilitators. The following design is based on that used by Philip Wayre of the Otter Trust, who has bred badgers regularly in such pens. There are many variations on this basic design, which may need to be altered to suit local conditions or the availability of materials.
The minimum size enclosure for two badgers should be 20 x 20 metres, and if possible it should not be rectangular or square. The fence should be 132 centimetres high and constructed of chain link netting (3.8 centimetre mesh, 10.5-gauge) fitted to the inside of the support posts. The fence should be topped by a wooden rail 7.5x5 centimetres in section to which is attached a sheet metal overhang 33 centimetres in width. The overhang should be of 20-gauge galvanised steel sheeting. This should be bent over the top rail and securely nailed to it, and also extend over the entrance gate.
The floor of the pen should be covered with natural turf. To prevent the animals digging out, the whole ground area must be covered with chain link netting laid flat on the turf in strips and securely wired together and to the bottom of the fence. The netting on the floor can then be covered with 5-7.5 centimetres of sand or soil, through which the grass will grow. Mowing will encourage earthworms, thereby enabling the badgers to forage occasionally. A large heap of soil in the centre of the pen will allow the badgers to dig.
A simple artificial sett should be constructed, either underground if the site is well-drained or above the surface if not. It should have an entrance tunnel at least 100 centimetres long (angled to exclude light), and 25 centimetres diameter, leading to a chamber with a base 60 x 70 centimetres and a height of 40 centimetres. The walls of the chamber should be made of wooden blocks, with air-bricks used as the floor and a hinged waterproof lid for the roof.
Finally, the pen should be provided with permanent water in the form of a shallow concrete pool, bales of hay or straw for bedding and a wooden tunnel to cover the food supply to allow feeding with a sense of security and also reduce losses to birds. With this size of pen routine veterinary examination, or final examination before release, becomes more difficult and may entail cage trapping and running the animal into a 'crush' for anaesthesia/ examination.
It is important that injured badgers are released as soon as possible, since prolonged periods of confinement reduce their chances of survival in the wild. Obviously the animal must be fit for release prior to any attempt to return it to the wild, but do not use unnecessarily stringent conditions to judge an animal's fitness (see 7.2).
Once you are sure that the animal is ready for release, it should be returned to the exact point at which it was found. A badger released even a few hundred metres off its territory may become disorientated and either not find its way home or receive fresh injuries from badgers in adjacent social groups. The release is best done well after dark. In areas near to busy roads, wait until the middle of the night. The best approach is to put the animal on the ground in the carrying cage or dustbin, let it have a couple of minutes to familiarise itself with its surroundings, and then open the cage or tip the dustbin onto its side. Do not tip the badger out, just leave it to make its own way off. In this way the animal will not panic and run off in the wrong direction; a release in the middle of the night minimises the risk from cars, but gives the animal plenty of time to relocate its sett or find suitable cover by dawn.
There are times when the killing of an injured badger has to be carried out for humanitarian reasons. This is best carried out by a veterinary surgeon, who will have the necessary expertise to do it quickly and humanely; badgers are best destroyed with an injection of pentobarbitone sodium. In the absence of an experienced veterinary surgeon, the local RSPCA, SSPCA or USPCA inspector will be correctly equipped and experienced in dealing with wild animals; his/ her emergency telephone number can be obtained from the local telephone directory.
For the very few emergencies when neither is available, a local farmer or some other person may be available to shoot the badger. However, remember that, for good reasons, the law prescribes the calibres of weapons which can be used to kill a badger. Such weapons are restricted to shotguns of 20 bore or larger or a firearm (cartridge rifle or pistol) firing a bullet weighing not less than 38 grains with a muzzle energy not less than 160 foot pounds. With a rifle or pistol, a frontal head shot may be best, but remember that a badger's skull is very thick and may deflect a bullet fired at an incorrect angle. The same problem may arise if a humane killer is used on a badger. Therefore always ascertain what is behind the animal before shooting. With a shotgun, it may be best to shoot the animal in the chest or in the neck just behind the head, but again be careful. If the animal is on a tarmac road or gravelly soil, stray pellets will ricochet and may injure people nearby. Unlike the laws covering the humane killing of deer and seals, the above restrictions regarding weapons are not waived by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 for the humane killing of injured badgers. In practice this should not prove a problem, as the most frequently available weapon is a 12 bore shotgun, which is classed as a legal weapon for killing badgers.
In some cases badgers are found dead in suspicious circumstances and poisoning may be suspected. Under the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme, which is run by the three Agricultural Departments in Britain, cases are investigated where badgers are thought to be the victims of pesticides used either for approved purposes or deliberately abused to kill livestock predators or species causing crop damage. When such an event is suspected, make full notes on the circumstances surrounding the incident. The case should then be reported immediately to the Agricultural Departments who have established a Freephone number for the purpose (see Chapter 11. Useful Addresses). Where there are sound grounds to suspect poisoning, they will then make arrangements to collect badger carcases for post-mortem analysis, and take any necessary follow-up action. You should also notify the RSPCA (or SSPCA or USPCA) and the police of the incident and the action taken.
The most important thing to know about the materials used for gassing is that they are extremely dangerous, and investigating badgers setts that are suspected of having been gassed is a job for the experts; so do nothing yourself, but contact ADAS. They will investigate the report as part of the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme. In addition, the incident should be reported to the RSPCA, SSPCA or USPCA, and the police.
'Cymag' is a white powder containing sodium cyanide that is used for gassing rabbit and rat burrows. On contact with moisture it produces hydrogen cyanide gas. It cannot legally be used for any other species, but unfortunately is still used to gas fox earths and badger setts. There are two methods used to gas burrows; a motor-driven or hand pump may be used to blow the powder through the burrow, the holes of which are then blocked as the powder is seen to emerge or, more simply, and commonly, the powder is spooned into the entrances of the burrows, and the holes then blocked up.
In the past, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food used 'Cymag' to kill badgers as part of their attempts to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle; they pumped the powder into the sett. However, its efficacy was not tested prior to being used on badgers, and tests a few years later showed that badgers require particularly high concentrations of the gas to kill them humanely. Since it was questionable whether these high concentrations of gas were achieved in the sett, its use to kill badgers was discontinued. Also, there were reports of badgers that were weak and staggering or with paralysed hind quarters seen in the vicinity of recently gassed setts; these are typical symptoms of animals which have survived cyanide poisoning.
Since badgers are more resistant to cyanide poisoning than many mammals, it seems probable that spooning the 'Cymag' into the sett entrance is unlikely to kill the badgers until they approach the exit and try to dig out. So if you find a gassed sett, emergency action may be beneficial, and can be done immediately, so long as (a) it is done by experts and (b) you notify the relevant Statutory Nature Conservation Agency as soon as possible afterwards. But do not open the sett yourself- cyanide gas is very dangerous, and the risks should not be underestimated. So if you do suspect gassing, call in an expert. Also, as a general safety rule, never open any blocked badger sett unless someone else is present, since you do not always know in advance if the sett has been gassed. Opening a sett that may possibly have been gassed is very risky, especially in a hollow or on a still day when air movement is at a minimum. Due to the risks of liberating gas, if any residual powder is present it should not be disturbed, handled or removed but if the skin becomes accidentally contaminated wash the area immediately.
Hydrogen cyanide gas produces a characteristic smell of bitter almonds (which only some people can smell), and it works by suffocation, rapidly preventing oxygen being taken into the blood stream. Thus victims can literally turn blue. It is a particularly dangerous gas because it can cause partial or total unconsciousness with very little warning. The warning signs are irritation of the throat, dizziness, nausea, general weakness and headache, flushing and palpitations. In cases of serious contamination, a feeling of suffocation will be experienced, followed by deep breathing and stoppage of the heart. Only suitable respirators protect against the effect of cyanide gas, and gauze or similar masks should not be worn, since they can actually enhance the risks involved. An Agricultural Safety Leaflet that explains the risks (AS 14 Cyanide gassing powders) is produced by the Health and Safety Executive.
There are other gassing compounds available based on aluminium phosphide which produce toxic phosphine gas in contact with moisture. These may also be abused to kill badgers. Additionally other poisonous substances may be placed in or near a sett. The safety precautions described above are, of course, still applicable.
When a gassed sett is found or suspected use the Agricultural Department's Freephone number (see Chapter 11. Useful Addresses) to contact an expert straight away. Their wildlife consultants will investigate cases where there are sound grounds to suspect gassing. They have access to the necessary safety equipment and probes to take samples of the air in the setts. They will also collect any evidence that may be needed for any subsequent prosecution. This will include photographs of the blocked sett, details of witnesses to gas sample readings, information from discarded containers and badger carcases for post-mortem examination. They will also be able to advise on whether it is safe for you to open up the sett.
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