Are hunting dogs behind the UK’s epidemic of bovine tuberculosis?


Between twenty-five and forty hounds used in England’s Kimblewick Hunt have been killed to combat an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis. The incident suggests that hunting dogs may be at least partly behind the disease’s spread, which decimates UK cattle herds and has long been blamed on badgers.

Bovine tuberculosis is a common, often lethal disease afflicting cattle in the UK. Since 2008, nearly two hundred and forty thousand cattle across England have been killed to combat outbreaks.

Cows grazing outside Carlisle, near Hadrian’s Wall. Image courtesy Wolf Gordon Clifton – Animal People, Inc.

The disease’s spread has been widely blamed on badgers, who are also known to carry it, and since 2013 the UK government has granted licenses to shoot badgers on farms. More than ten thousand badgers were killed in last year’s cull alone. Initial findings suggested that killing badgers would reduce infections in cows by sixteen percent. However, more recent studies show that culls may actually increase the spread of TB, by driving surviving badgers into new territories.

Other studies demonstrate that wild badgers rarely interact with cows in the first place, and so are unlikely to be major transmitters of the disease. By contrast, hounds are often fed with meat from fallen cattle from nearby farms, and frequently pass through farmlands during hunts.

Animal protection groups are calling for all hunting in the UK to be immediately banned. Says Eduardo Gonçalves of the League Against Cruel Sports,

“It would be a farce if hunting was allowed to continue while bovine TB is rife. … If the government doesn’t act decisively to control the spread of disease by stopping hunting, we could be looking at thousands of dogs having to be destroyed in addition to the devastation among cattle.”

Hunting animals with dogs has been prohibited throughout the UK since 2005. Trail hunting, in which hounds follow an artificially laid scent, remains legal, though in practice trail hunts often serve as cover for illegal hunting of foxes and other animals. In late February, a pack of hounds from the Cheshire Forest Hunt chased and killed a fox in a residential neighborhood in Macclesfield. There have been over four hundred and thirty prosecuted cases of hunting with dogs since the 2005 ban.

Many conservative politicians, including Prime Minister Theresa May, support relegalizing foxhunting. However, a large majority of the public oppose the bloodsport, including nearly three quarters of Conservative voters.

(Featured image credit International Fund for Animal Welfare, CC BY-NC 2.0)

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ANIMAL PEOPLE is an animal rights charitable organization dedicated to the principle that animals’ lives have intrinsic value apart from human interests. We believe there is an urgent need to cultivate human compassion for the other creatures with whom we share the earth. To that end, ANIMAL PEOPLE seeks to further animal advocacy by providing a global forum in which people who care about animals can speak and be heard. Click to see author's profile.

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