LONDON – A cull of thousands of badgers aimed at combating tuberculosis in cattle has begun in Britain, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said Tuesday, sparking anger among animal rights activists.
Some 5,000 of the black-and-white creatures are set to be shot under two pilot programs in southwestern England aimed at halting the spread of TB in cattle.
The NFU claims the controversial cull will save tens of thousands of cows from being slaughtered by limiting the spread of the disease from badgers.
But Britain’s biggest animal charity, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), said many of the badgers would suffer a slow, painful death and that the cull would “not solve the problems caused by this devastating disease.”
A dozen protesters have begun set up “Camp Badger” at Doniford Holt in Somerset, southwest England, vowing to stop the cull from taking place.
The activists have started patrolling the countryside in a bid to prevent marksmen from shooting at the animals.
Environmental agency Natural England issued a license allowing farmers to cull badgers in parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire from June 1.
The pilot plans were due to begin late last year but were delayed after condemnation by wildlife experts and a high-profile campaign led by Queen guitarist Brian May.
NFU chief Peter Kendall said farmers recognized that the cull was divisive, but said it was necessary to combat a disease that has cost the taxpayer £500 million ($775 million) over the past decade.
“We understand passions run high, but we’d ask (protesters) to remember not just the 5,000 badgers we’re talking about culling in these two pilot areas, but the 38,000 cattle slaughtered,” he said.