Every year, hundreds of badgers meet a horrific death in the name of 'sport' in the UK at the hands of terriermen. Many of those who have been caught digging into badger setts have used the excuse that they were after foxes - and many have escaped prosecution by so doing.
More than 10,000 are caught, tortured and killed in the UK each year by huntsmen with terriers - with almost a third of these illegal acts being carried out in Wales. Alarmingly, this figure is rising constantly. Terry Spamer, a former RSPCA inspector, believes that there are around 2,000 people involved in badger baiting currently. However, only around three people are caught and convicted of badger baiting each year, while the majority carry on breaking the law.
Badger Baiting was made illegal in 1835 and is currently an offence under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, but it has never died out. Sadly, it is the badger's tenacity, its apparent ability to absorb almost any punishment and still go on fighting, which has made it a target for people who get their kicks from inflicting cruelty upon animals, even today.
Small terriers, such as Lakelands, Patterdales, sometimes Jack Russells or a cross-breed are sent down into a badger sett to locate a badger and hold it at bay. The men then dig their way down to their quarry and drag the badger out of the sett. Many diggers attach a radio transmitter to the dog's collar before sending it below ground then all they have to do is use a radio receiver/locater to determine the exact location of the dog.
There are essentially two types of badger baiters. The first who do it just for the pleasure of killing the badger on the spot and no money is involved. If it's lucky the badger will be shot but usually the men will set their snarling terriers on the badger and watch it suffer a long and agonising death stabbing it with shovels for good measure. At times, the dogs and the badgers may die when the sett collapses and suffocates them. (Many badger groups have fortified their local setts with concrete to protect the badgers.)
The second type of badger baiting involves gambling where large sums of money can change hands. The badger is dug out of the sett in the manner described above and then it is put in a bag and taken away to be baited later on. The badger is taken somewhere quiet for example a barn, shed or cellar and placed into a makeshift arena, a ring or pit, from which it cannot escape. Dogs are then set upon it. Even if the badger is lucky enough to get the better of one dog, the owner may hit or otherwise injure the badger in order to 'protect his pet'. Ultimately, no matter how well it tries to defend itself, the badger's fate is sealed. The badger, through injury and exhaustion, will not be able fight any longer. The baiters will then kill the badger usually by clubbing or shooting it. Gambling is always involved and a winning dog's value will rise - along with the price of its puppies. An anonymous letter received by Badger Watch & Rescue Dyfed states that badgers are being caught and sold for about £500 for baiting.
Badgers are shy and peaceful animals and not normally aggressive, but will defend themselves if cornered or provoked. A badger has great strength and a blow from one of its vicious claws can do serious harm. Many dogs seriously injured during badger digging and baiting go untreated as their owners are more concerned vets will become suspicious of the owner's illegal activity.
It's not just 'rogue' terriermen who consider badger baiting a perfectly respectable pastime. For example, Bob Lawrence writing in Countrymans Weekly, 4 March 1994, comment:
"It is sad that a large proportion of the sporting community has taken to condemning badger digging. Perhaps this condemnation is a ploy to throw a smokescreen into the antis. At one time it was regarded as a true country sport and was reported in magazines like The Field. Indeed that illustrious publication was responsible for the publishing of an excellent little book entitled Working Terriers, Badgers and Badger Digging written by H H King. Anyone who has a chance to read it should do so as it gives an excellent insight into a real sporting pastime.
"Badger digging, when conducted in the proper manner by people who respected the quarry and the gallant little dogs used to dig them, was a perfectly respectable sport."