Badgers and bovine tuberculosis

The involvement of badgers Meles meles in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle in the UK, and attempts to control the disease in cattle by killing badgers, has been among the most controversial issues in wildlife disease management globally. We reviewed the evidence, before interpreting aspects of the epizootiology of bTB in the context of badger behaviour and ecology. Specifically, our research introduced the perturbation hypothesis, and documented the individual behavioural responses of badgers in populations subjected to culling, and interpreted these in the context of a large-scale experiment, the randomized badger control trial (RBCT). The evidence for perturbation is strong, and provides both an explanation for why attempts to control bTB in cattle by killing badgers have generally been unsuccessful, and why they continue to be unpromising. We have considered alternative options, including improved biosecurity on farms and vaccination, either of cattle or badgers, and call for a more holistic approach to bTB management.

David W. Macdonald
Rosie Woodroffe
Philip Riordan


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Tuyttens, F.A.M., Delahay, R.J., Macdonald, D.W, Cheeseman, C.L., Long, B. and Donnelly, C.A. (2000). Spatial perturbation caused by a badger (Meles meles) culling operation: implications for the function of territoriality and the control of bovine tuberculosis (Mycobacterium bovis). Journal of Animal Ecology, 69: 815-828.

Tuyttens, F.A.M., Macdonald, D.W., Rogers, L.M.,Cheeseman, C.L. and Roddam, A.W. (2000c). Comparative study on the consequences of culling badgers (Meles meles) on biometrics, population dynamics and movement. Journal of Animal Ecology, 69: 567-580.

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Riordan, P., Delahay, R.J., Cheeseman, C., Johnson, P.J. and Macdonald, D.W. (2011). Culling-Induced Changes in Badger (Meles meles) Behaviour, Social Organisation and the Epidemiology of Bovine Tuberculosis. Plos One, 6: 357-365.

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