Badger setts have been targeted by cruel criminals in Co Down, just as the mothers are safeguarding their litters of small cubs.
After uncovering a spate of sett attacks, the Northern Ireland Badger Group has issued a warning to residents in the Dromore region.
It claims that badger baiters accompanied by fighting dogs have dug out at least three setts in recent weeks, two of which have been left lifeless.
According to a spokeswoman, “These guys target the mother badger during this time of year because she fights to protect her cubs.
“They go to extraordinary lengths. They dig a deep tunnel into the main chamber and seal the entrance openings, preventing the badgers from escaping.
“The biggest of the setts was still active, but our fear is that they are targeting them at this time of year, when the mother will have cubs.”
The spokesman said the badger baiters dig down to get at the badgers, then loose fighting dogs, leaving the badger dead and badly mutilated.
“The young badgers would probably be killed in the whole process. It’s a horrible thing – I’ve seen the aftermath a number of times. The badger is completely mangled, almost unrecognisable,” he said.
“I’ve found foxes tied to trees close to setts where they had been baited with the dogs.”
Landowners in the Dromore area who are working with the group are “disgusted” by the cruelty, he said.
“They would certainly have local knowledge – where they dug out the setts is well off the beaten track.
“It’s horrific what goes on in our countryside. Because it happens in the hinterland of Ulster, we only know about it when we get phone calls about people being on the land. It happens well away from public view.”
The spokesman asked local people to watch out for men with shovels and accompanied by terriers or lurchers as well as suspicious vehicles close to where setts would be.
“One of the times to be on the lookout are Sunday mornings. There tends to be less people about then and they take advantage of that,” he said.
“Badgers and their setts are both protected – you are legally not allowed to interfere with them in any way, so if you find any evidence contact police on 101 or ring Crimestoppers, but if you actually see a crime taking place ring 999.
“The police are very proactive on this and take wildlife crime and animal cruelty very seriously.
“The courts have also started giving custodial sentences for animal cruelty. These baiters have committed a crime and there need to be robust measures in place to make them stop,” the spokesman said.
A PSNI spokesman said: “Under the Wildlife Order, if any person intentionally or recklessly kills, injures or takes any wild animal included in Schedule fives/he shall be guilty of an offence.
“It is also an offence to damage/destroy or obstruct the sett. The Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011 also legislates for offences in relation to fighting and these include offences which may be linked to badger baiting.”
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