Mycobacterium bovis (TB) in cattle is a disease with far-reaching economic effects throughout Europe but especially in Great Britain and Ireland. Wildlife reservoirs, in particular the European badger Meles meles, continue to play an important role in the transmission of the disease, although the pathways of transmission are still poorly understood. The badger is an opportunistic feeder that takes advantage of seasonally abundant foods, such as fruits and insect larvae. Badgers might therefore be expected to enter farmyards to exploit grain stores or feed concentrates. This would bring them into close proximity with livestock present in those yards, potentially increasing the likelihood of disease transmission.
This Irish study is the first to have looked at the use of a variety of farmyard types by free-ranging, GPS collared badgers from a medium-density population over a 3 years period.
We found that badgers in our study area avoided all types of farmyards but particularly those where cattle were present.
We investigated the influences of seasonality, social group members and badger gender on these preferences and found that they had no impact on this behaviour.
As our results differ from the findings of studies carried out in high-density badger populations in Great Britain it is probable that different farming practices as well as differences in badger behaviour and ecology must be taken into account when designing measures to control this disease. Increasing our knowledge of the interactions between badgers and cattle in a variety of ecological situations will assist in proactive and general control of the disease in both species.
40 badgers were studied for 3 years using GPS collars which sent data four times per night.
The actual number of badger records in farmyards was compared to the expected number.
Badgers exhibited significant avoidance of farmyards especially on cattle farms.
Seasonality, sex and social group had no impact on badger presence in farmyards