< > Glossary & References / Miscellaneous Documents List / B152 Problems with Badgers? Third Revised Edition 1994 / Text Sections:
8. REHABILITATING BADGERS
Sometimes very young cubs may be found in daylight outside a sett. Invariably they have been orphaned, and are usually very hungry by the time they come above ground. These cubs will need to be reared and kept in captivity until they are full-grown and able to look after themselves. If more than one cub is found, then the cubs provide company for each other and so can be reared with the minimum of human contact. Solitary cubs will need human company until August, since cubs reared in isolation often become neurotic and unsuitable for release. However, a very few contacts, and all strangers distrusted, is the safest upbringing, and all human contact should be discontinued after August.
Very young cubs taken from a damaged sett are difficult to get started on a bottle. At the first taste of milk a hungry cub clenches its jaws and hunches its shoulders, a reflex to keep rivals from a productive teat. This makes a second attempt to insert the teat impossible; the cub does not suck whilst gripping, and either the milk is at the wrong end of the bottle or the cub is on its back risking inhalation pneumonia. Much time and patience are necessary at the beginning to get the cub warm, relaxed and sucking. If, once the cub is feeding well, it refuses a meal, speedy help from a veterinary surgeon is vital since inhalation pneumonia is the likely cause. Antibiotics are needed, and these are best given by injection rather than in the milk.
Young cubs found above ground will not lap, and need to be bottle fed until their permanent teeth start to appear at ten weeks of age. Badger cubs readily adjust to a bottle, and 'CATAC' foster feeding bottles are usually available from pet stores. Cleanliness is essential when rearing cubs, and all feeding equipment should be properly sterilised. 'Complan' or 'Vitafood' are the preferred foods; these should be made up in the proportions of three parts warm water to one part powder. Cubs should be fed regularly but not too much at each feed; a veterinary surgeon will be able to advise you how to feed a puppy, and a similar regime is suitable for young badgers. However, unlike puppies, badger cubs often require stimulation to defecate and urinate and this is usually carried out immediately before a feed. This can be achieved by gently massaging the anal/genital region with cotton wool soaked in warm water. The change to the new diet may cause a number of problems. Food containing cows' (or goats') milk can cause hair loss and red, peeling skin in some cubs, presumably some form of allergy. Too strong a milk mixture causes diarrhoea; when constipation is a problem sugar can be used as a laxative. It is only by trial and error that you will get things right. Always seek veterinary advice quickly on how to treat any problems you encounter.
When the second (permanent) incisor teeth appear, it is time to start to wean the badger cub. Before that stage the cub will not be particularly interested in, or able to pick up, solid food items. Any food can be used for this; slops and remains of cooked food are adequate but very messy, especially for a cub trying to learn to handle solids. It is probably best to use finely chopped meat or fat (but not too much fat), rusks, or tinned dog food. Alternatively, dried complete dog foods are cheap, easy to handle and contain all the necessary vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre, etc and are readily accepted by badgers. 'Gilpa Valumix' is particularly suitable for this purpose. As the cub grows, a greater variety of food can be offered (see 8.4).
Wherever possible, orphaned badger cubs should be reared in the country in an area suitable for their release, and not reared at one site and then moved to a new area just prior to release. As soon as the cub is big enough, usually in May or June, it should be moved to an outdoor enclosure or outbuilding, such as those described in 7.5 Chapter 7. Injured Badgers. Human contact should be kept to the one person who has reared the cub, but that person should no longer play with or try to handle the cub. During the summer, male cubs in particular are liable to become aggressive and bite because in the wild they would be developing sexually and establishing themselves within a social group.
Each evening from June onwards the badger cub should be taken for a walk around the local fields. If it is possible to rear two or more cubs together, and take them out together, so much the better. The walks will familiarise the cub(s) with the area and get it used to foraging. This procedure is relatively simple, since a cub that has accepted you as its surrogate mother will take great care not to get lost, and readily follow you. At first the cub should be locked up at night, since wild badgers will attack it. However, in late summer the cub should be allowed to wander during the night of its own accord, but must have a safe retreat if pursued by a wild badger. One way to do this is to set a badger gate 60 centimetres above the ground level in the wire fence surrounding the shed or pen in which it lives; there should be a plank leading to either side of the gate. A cub can be taught to use the planks and gate, and can use it as an escape route home, since a wild badger would be unlikely to follow.
If it has the freedom to come and go, a badger cub can choose when it wants to depart. Most cubs will leave in late winter or the spring, when they are about a year old. Some may go earlier, others stay longer. However, by the end of its first summer a cub reared in this way should be largely self-sufficient, and requires little additional food to that which it finds naturally. Having been fed for much of the summer, it will probably be larger than most wild-reared cubs, and its chances of survival should be reasonably good.
A second approach that has proved to be very successful is to collect groups of orphaned cubs together, to give four to six individuals with an approximately even distribution of sexes, and to rear them together in a large outdoor pen (see 7.5 Chapter 7. Injured Badgers). As they grow, they will develop a social hierarchy, and hopefully start to function as a coherent social group. In the late summer, transfer them all to a release pen containing a suitable sett (see 8.3), and continue to feed them within the release pen until late autumn, when this can be removed, and feeding gradually reduced. However, great care should be taken when selecting the release site. It should be well away from an area with established badger social groups, since the animals being released are only cubs and would be severely disadvantaged in any conflict with established badger populations. Such an approach is, however, well suited to re-colonising parts of East Anglia and South Yorkshire, for instance, where badger numbers are very low.
Finally, when undertaking such a release, it is virtually certain that the cubs will have been collected from a wide range of localities, and undoubtedly will be moved to an area a long way from their place of origin. So be particularly careful about introducing diseases, especially bovine tuberculosis. Consult with the Regional Service Centre of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and have all the badgers tested for bovine tuberculosis before their release. Whilst you do not require a licence to release or translocate captive-reared, badgers, close consultation with the relevant Statutory Nature Conservation Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is to be recommended. Also, prior to them being moved to the release pen, have the cubs regularly examined by a veterinary surgeon to check for signs of disease, and make sure they have been vaccinated against parvo-virus, leptospirosis and distemper.
Badgers dug out as very young cubs are sometimes reared illegally. If they are recovered by an animal welfare organisation or the police when still young, they can be reared as described in 8.1. However, if they have been in captivity for some time, and are partially or fully grown, they pose a special problem. Many such animals are raised with pet dogs, so that they have no inherent fear of dogs and are usually very tame or habituated to humans. They have had little or no experience of life in the wild and pose a particularly severe problem for rehabilitation. They must be held in captivity until the autumn, when they are nearly full size and ready for release. Occasionally illegally held adult animals are also recovered. Older boars (i.e. over two years of age) may be very aggressive to humans when tame, and if released have been known to attack people near their sett. They are also very difficult to return to a nocturnal life-style. Therefore older boars that are particularly tame or aggressive should never be released and are usually best destroyed. For adult sows, use your discretion. They are usually less of a problem but again very tame or aggressive individuals are usually best destroyed unless someone is available with a lot of time to spend trying to rehabilitate them.
Prior to release, tame and/or habituated badgers need a long period of acclimatisation and should be held in large semi-natural enclosures (see 7.5 Chapter 7. Injured Badgers), preferably with a small group of other badgers with which they subsequently will be released. In this pen they should have a sett in which to spend the day, should always be fed at dusk, should not be disturbed during the day, and should never be handled or disturbed other than when being fed. In this way the badgers will slowly regain a predominantly nocturnal regime and will also become more wary of humans. If the holding pen can be some distance away from human activity, so much the better.
If you rear a small group of badgers in the same enclosure, they will slowly establish social contacts and should start to interact like a group of wild badgers. An ideal group would be two boars and two or three sows, preferably of mixed ages. Rearing a group of badgers in this way is a professional job, and if you have a badger that you are not able to rear properly you should contact one of the RSPCA's Wildlife Hospitals (see Chapter 11. Useful Addresses) who may be able to rear it for you. In the autumn a sett should be selected for their release (see section 8.3). Remember that great care must be used when selecting the sett, since the right choice is crucial to the success of the project. Remember also that badgers should normally only be translocated to a disused main sett (see 2.2 Chapter 2. Badger Biology).
Finally, if at all possible, plan the release for the autumn. Badger activity is reduced in the late autumn and winter, and so there is the minimum chance of an itinerant wild badger moving into the area and disturbing your introduced group. Also, at the turn of the year badgers spend a significant proportion of the night underground, may not emerge every night, and feed less, living off their body fat. All this reduced above-ground activity means that the released badgers are less likely to wander off; spending plenty of time within their new sett may encourage them to accept it as their new home.
If you plan to release injured or confiscated badgers at a site other than that from which they were taken, careful selection of the release site is imperative, and it may take a lot of time to find a suitable sett. The following criteria must be adhered to:-
When you have chosen your sett, enclose it with either an electric fence (see 9.3 Chapter 9. Useful Techniques) or a fixed fence. This needs to be of comparable design to that shown in fig. 6 or 7 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way, with an overhang around the top and buried deeply into the ground, since the badgers may make a determined effort to dig out. The badgers should now be transported to the release site. This is best done by having each badger in a separate carrying cage, and you should cover the cages for the journey. In case the animals are at first reluctant to stay underground, it is best to introduce them to the new sett at dusk, so that if they soon re-emerge they will not be wandering about in the daylight. For the actual introduction to the sett, a mild sedative such as acetyl promazine may occasionally be necessary for some animals, but it is usually fairly easy to encourage the badgers to enter the new sett without first tranquillising them. For any procedure involving the use of a tranquillising agent, a veterinary surgeon or some other authorised person will be required to administer the drug. Even if you do not plan to use a sedative, it is still useful to have a veterinary surgeon present in case there are difficulties in getting an animal to enter a strange sett, or if an animal breaks out of the carrying cage and runs wildly around the release pen, blunders into the electric fence and becomes badly entangled. It is very difficult to release an irate badger from a live electric fence pulsing 6000 volts sixty times a minute!
Once the badgers have entered the sett, loosely plug all the entrances with hay or straw. The plugs should be taken out at dusk, but will deter the badgers from emerging before dark, and if left near the sett entrance the badgers will be able to use the straw as bedding. When they do emerge, they will cautiously explore the pen, and after one or two shocks from the fence will be very careful to avoid it. The badgers should be maintained within the enclosure for four to six weeks, during which time they will need to be fed and watered. Suitable items include tinned or dried dog food, lightly boiled cheap cuts of meat, cheese, peanuts, chopped apples, carrots and cooked potatoes, and in the autumn hedgerow fruits such as acorns and blackberries. Windfall apples, pears and plums provide a ready source of food in the autumn, and road-killed birds and mammals can be obtained throughout the year. Day-old chicks are best avoided, since they may encourage the badgers to look for similar food following release. Water can be supplied in an up turned dustbin lid, or even better in a pheasant/chicken water trough. Those do not need to be refilled as often and can be tied to a tree, so that they cannot be knocked over.
Following the removal of the electric fence, continue to feed the badgers for about three more weeks, but with decreasing amounts of food. The badgers will start to forage away from the pen area, and very soon may have a home range of a square kilometre or more. The period in the release pen will have given the badgers time to enlarge the sett, which they hopefully will accept as home, for a while at least. In the long-term they may stay permanently in the sett you have chosen, they may move away fairly quickly, or they may slowly drift away over a period of weeks or months. The badgers may stay together as a group or split up, and the animals that move off may become solitary, or join a group of wild badgers. All these patterns of behaviour have been observed; we do not know why sometimes none of the badgers disperse, whilst at other times they will all move away.
Most wild badger social groups consist of closely related individuals which comprise an extended family group, and hence are genetically-related. Groups put together for a release are usually totally unrelated, and so may lack the social cohesion found in a wild group of badgers. However, if the badgers that move away join with a group of wild badgers, they are still in a position to contribute to the breeding population in the area. Animals that move off and become solitary contribute little if anything to the local badger population and probably have a much reduced life expectancy. Therefore the aim of any release should be, if possible, to integrate the badgers into the wild population.
There are certain circumstances under which it may be necessary to consider moving entire groups of wild badgers to a new area e.g. when the main sett and/or the foraging grounds are to be removed by a motorway junction or an open cast coal mine, but translocation must always be viewed as a last resort, only to be considered when all the other alternatives have been tried and failed (see 5.1.2 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way). It is far preferable for the badgers to stay in the area where they know the roads, the best foraging sites and the positions of their neighbouring groups; to move them to a new locality will reduce their chances of survival. Indeed, unless done properly, this activity could be considered by some people to be cruelly ill-treating badgers.
If the main sett is to be destroyed but the territory will remain largely unchanged, then it may be possible to build an artificial main sett on the territory (see 9.4 Chapter 9. Useful Techniques); ideally this should be in as similar a habitat as possible to the existing main sett, and well within the territorial boundary. If you are unsure of the territorial boundaries of a particular group of badgers, this can be estimated by bait marking (see 9.1 Chapter 9. Useful Techniques).
If translocation is considered really essential, you must work to a clear and well thought out plan. Initial action includes the following groundwork:-
It is essential to catch all the animals from the social group using the threatened sett. To maximise your chance of success you need to saturate the sett area with traps, with many more traps than badgers, since at certain times of the year (particularly the winter months) badgers can be difficult to catch (see 2.2 Chapter 2. Badger Biology). The traps should be baited with peanuts mixed with syrup or honey; prebaiting for at least ten days is really essential if trapping is to be successful. Once a badger has been caught it should be removed as soon as possible and the trap re-set, so that all the traps are available to catch more badgers. After a couple of nights, if you think that you have caught all the badgers, loosely plug all the holes in the sett with soil or straw. If the holes are opened, then keep on trapping until you get the last badger(s) and the holes remain closed. As a general rule, 60% of the badgers are likely to be caught in the first two nights. Since those not caught in the first two nights appear to be progressively harder to catch, maximum effort is required early on.
To maximise your chances of a successful rehabilitation in the new site, you should move all the badgers to the new sett together. The translocation is best undertaken in the autumn, when the cubs are nearly fully grown, before the onset of the breeding season, and when badger activity is declining (see 2.2 Chapter 2. Badger Biology). The selection of a release site is described in 8.3; the sett should have been enclosed by an electric fence. Use the same procedures as described in 8.4 when introducing the badgers to their new sett, and keep feeding them within the enclosure for a period of four to six weeks. Then remove the fence, continue feeding for three more weeks, and monitor the progress of the badgers.
If you have to anaesthetise the badgers during handling e.g. to check them for recent injuries, then use the opportunity to trim the hair on different areas on the rump and/or back of the badgers so that they can all be recognised during subsequent observation periods. This should be done with sharp scissors or clippers, and only the upper part of the hairs should be removed. This leaves a dark patch. Do not remove too much hair since this will make the badger more vulnerable to bites, and remember to ask the relevant Statutory Nature Conservation Agency to authorise 'marking' on your licence. The whole translocation procedure is hard work, very time consuming, and success is not guaranteed. However, if you choose a good release site, it is probable that the group will stay together for some while, particularly since they are an established and genetically related social group.
Releasing badgers that have been held in captivity for some time (see 8.2), or translocating groups of wild badgers, are both complex operations, and the advice given here is based on our own experiences. However, it is important that we learn a lot more about the successes (and problems) involved in releasing or translocating badgers, and so it is most important that wherever possible the badgers are closely monitored for some time after the release, and a full report prepared on the operation. Thus all badgers should be permanently marked with tattoos, and preferably radio-collared to monitor their welfare. This is all very expensive and time consuming. However, we will only learn how to improve our techniques by carefully monitoring what we do.
Clearly, translocating badgers is beyond the expertise of most local Badger Groups or county Wildlife Trusts. It is also very expensive. However, consultants for ADAS Commercial Services at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may be willing to cost out the operation and undertake to catch and move the badgers on your behalf; they have all the necessary expertise and will save you a considerable amount of trouble. So discuss the translocation with your Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Regional Service Centre and get them to give you a written quotation for catching and moving the badgers. The costs of operations such as translocations will have to be met by whoever has necessitated the work. Badger Groups are only funded by subscriptions and are unable to mount and pay for such expensive operations.
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