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Foraging Eurasian badgers Meles meles and the presence of cattle in pastures. Do badgers avoid cattle?

By Enda M. Mullen, Teresa MacWhite, Peter K. Maher, David J. Kelly, Nicola M. Marples, Margaret Good

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Abstract

The proximity of badgers (Meles meles) to cattle, and their propensity to utilise pastures containing cattle, is of fundamental importance in understanding transmission possibilities for Mycobacterium bovis between a wildlife reservoir and cattle on farms. A study of free-ranging badgers carrying Global Positioning System (GPS) collars which allowed their movements to be tracked provided data on their use of a series of paddocks with and without cattle present. The data on badger movements were plotted against the grazing records on a farm, allowing comparison of the badger usage of each paddock when it had and when it had not cattle present. Badgers were found to avoid foraging in the paddocks containing cattle. They also showed varying levels of preference for different paddocks, but even preferred paddocks were usually avoided when cattle were present. This study thus demonstrates convincingly for the first time that free ranging badgers avoid entering paddocks containing cattle, so, at pasture, in this grazing system at least, direct contact between individuals is unlikely to be a major route of M. bovis transmission between these species. It therefore suggests that alternative strategies for controlling cross-infection between badgers and cattle might focus on other likely routes of transmission such as possible abnormal behaviour of badgers with advanced generalised TB, contaminated fomites or contact between badgers and cattle in farmyards or housing.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 144
Issue 3
Pages 130-137
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2013.01.013
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Tags
  1. Avoidance
  2. Cattle
  3. Ireland
  4. paddocks