An enhanced police wildlife crime unit is needed to tackle badger baiting and the organised crime groups behind it, a report by an animal charity has found.
The USPCA said the seizure of devices should be a priority when investigating the offence.
It has also called for a ban on hunting wild animals with dogs, as Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to have such legislation.
Badgers are a protected species and badger baiting is an illegal activity.
The USPCA report said vets from Great Britain with experience in treating dogs with badger baiting injuries should be brought in as expert witnesses, as “few if any local vets” have such knowledge and “are at greater risk of intimidation”.
The charity’s special investigations unit has found that more than 150 active badger baiters are operating in Northern Ireland, killing more than 2,000 badgers a year at a conservative estimate.
Badger baiting involves sending a small dog wearing a radio collar down into a sett.
When a badger is located, the offenders dig down to remove the badger, sometimes disabling it, before throwing it to larger dogs to be killed.
‘Act of cruelty’
Nora Smith, the chief executive of the USPCA, said thousands of badgers and other mammals are killed “purely for the fun of bloodthirsty individuals engaged in this illegal act of cruelty”.
“Our report highlights the shocking reality of badger baiting in Northern Ireland and the considerable weaknesses in the investigation, enforcement and prosecution of these violent and barbaric offences,” she said.
“Doing nothing is not an option.”
The dogs also often suffer traumatic injuries as the badger fights for its life.
“Horrific injuries to jaws and teeth will often go untreated as perpetrators fear their involvement in this activity will be discovered, resulting in unnecessary suffering and cruelty,” said vet David Martin.
“In the rest of the UK, since legislation outlawing hunting with dogs was introduced, there has thankfully been a marked decrease in this type of abuse against animals.”
res from the Police Service of Northern Ireland show there were 86 potential badger persecution offences reported in the three years from 2019 and 2021.
Of those, 32 related to suspected badger baiting, 42 concerned disturbing a sett and the remaining 12 related to the use of traps or snares or the shooting or poisoning of badgers.
There have been three convictions out of 11 prosecutions of people for offences relating to killing or injuring wild animals in Northern Ireland since 2011.
Badger baiting is thought to be significantly under-reported given the rural nature of the crime and a lack of awareness of what people should look out for.
Since 2019 the USPCA and the Northern Ireland Badger Group have established Operation Brockwatch to protect known setts with signage and cameras.
But Ms Smith of the USPCA said more action should be taken.
“Proper enforcement, a ban on hunting with dogs, and greater public awareness is needed to end this evil practice and protect defenceless badgers who should already be protected by law,” she said.
Source – BBC News