You can’t get a creature much cuter than a badger. And an English badger is a cut above the rest. Celebrated and anthropomorphized in the works of C.S. Lewis, Kenneth Grahame, Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl, the badger is about as British an animal as you might want, even if every continent sports its own variety.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise then, that a new movement has arisen in England and Wales to defend the badger from unwanted culling. Led by Brian May, guitarist of the legendary U.K. rock band Queen, this movement calls for an end to a government mandated program of curtailing badger populations, which is now proposed for the highlands of Wales. The reason? Badgers, who carry tuberculosis without harm to themselves, urinate and salivate on cattle grazing fields causing Welsh cattle to ingest contaminated grass. The contraction of bovine TB is fatal to the cattle, necessitating trips to the slaughterhouse. In the past several years, thousands of heads of Welsh cattle have been put down once seized with the disease.
The solution would seem to be a no brainer, right? Get rid of the badgers. That might have been appropriate in the 1980s when a devastating source of trichinellosis affected Russian badgers and cattle and later bovine TB which affected English farms. The answer of English authorities then was a program of gassing which effectively ended the plague.
But that was so 1980s. Since then there has been a widespread growth of English acceptance of the value of the badger and over 60 associations have sprung up around the country to lobby for their protection. Spurred by these groups, the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act made it an offense to kill, injure or take a badger, or to damage or interfere with its lair ( known as a sett) unless a license is obtained from a statutory authority. An exemption that allowed fox hunters to loosely block setts to prevent chased foxes escaping into them, was brought to an end with the passage of the 2004 Hunting Act.
Desperate to save their farms from increasing danger, the Welsh farmers are urging a new cull of 1,000 head of badgers to eliminate the threat. Mr. May is having none of it. An animal lover who maintains a menagerie for sick animals at his 19th Century mansion, May insists that the animals be inoculated rather than killed. The farmers argue the difficulties involved in such inoculation ( for instance, it is not as if the badgers will line up at the local veterinarian for their shot).
The dispute is emblematic of a struggle being waged across the Western world between animal liberationists and those whose livelihood is dependent on animal husbandry. As I wrote in last week’s piece, How Would You Like Your Eggs?, people like the Welsh farmers win little sympathy from activists who believe that the world’s priorities rest with conserving the animal kingdom whatever the cost to human beings. And so rich rock stars like May will pump hundreds of thousands of pounds of their own money into animal rights campaigns in an effort to harness support for their pet projects, indifferent to how this might affect the livelihoods of thousands of farmers.
The outrage of the farmers is palpable. In a recent Wall Street Journal article Brian Walters, the vice-president of the Farmer’s Union of Wales stated:
” It is completely galling for those who have to live with the misery and financial losses caused by TB to see a millionaire rock star dropping in to talk about the proposed cullwhen he has no idea of the desperate need to control this disease.”
Christianne Glossop, chief veterinary officer of Wales added before the hearings :
” By Day Two, Brian May had gone back to wherever he lives in the English home counties and here we are in Wales, and we still have TB.”
May, himself, is unapologetic. In the same Wall Street Journal article he is quoted as expressing astonishment at the furor:
” Why do we as a species think we have the right to exterminate another animal species?”
In those few words May encapsulates the nub of the dispute. The rampant and growing belief that humans are like all other animals on earth, with no greater claim to use of the earth’s resources, is in direct conflict with the notion of human exceptionalism – that human destiny is to control the planet and utilize its resources for the benefit of mankind. The former kind of thinking can only lead to a further collapse in moral values, to an attack on the protection and valuation of human life and the diminution of the willingness to make environmental compromises in the event of an environmental crisis which affects the health and welfare of human beings.
No one , of course, is talking about exterminating badgers. But the animal liberationists among us know a crusade when they see one, and will stop at nothing, even the destruction of a local farm economy, to enforce their world view on their fellow countrymen. We will rock you, indeed.