DEFRA Finally Reveals Shocking Details of Badger Cull Suffering

HSI/UK pushes for release of all information as veterinarians call on BVA to end support for cull

Humane Society International

  • A terrible fate could await many badgers this summer. Stuart Matthews

London—With badger culling in England potentially just weeks or even days away, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has admitted that some animals are likely to be wounded but not immediately killed, with injured animals expected to experience massive bleeding, hyperventilation and shock, and some eventually dying of secondary infection or starvation.

The revelation is in a document about the department’s “humaneness” assessment for shooting badgers at night requested by Humane Society International/UK. Whilst the information supplied fails to explain how DEFRA intends to measure suffering, the heavily redacted document [PDF] does reveal, for the first time, how the killing methods will inflict physical injury and suffering upon many badgers. Bizarrely, DEFRA uses studies on the killings of entirely different species in completely different circumstances—even including the harpooning of whales at sea—in its attempts to justify the methods it will use for assessing the “humaneness” of shooting free-roaming badgers.

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“It is clear why the government resisted answering our request for information. This document provides a shocking insight into the cruel fate that awaits England’s badgers—a dreadful massacre made all the more horrific because it has no basis whatsoever in science,” said HSI/UK Executive Director Mark Jones. “I am also puzzled by comparisons DEFRA makes to the killing methods of entirely different species. Killing a large whale with a harpoon to the brain, in broad daylight in the middle of the sea, has nothing whatsoever to do with shooting a badger in the chest with a rifle or shotgun in the pitch dark in the middle of a wood. The public has no faith in DEFRA’s failed attempts to justify this badger cull, and people will be horrified by the animal suffering. We must kill this cull, not England’s badgers.”

Key facts revealed in the information request:

  • DEFRA makes assumptions about humaneness based on irrelevant extrapolations from shooting completely different species like fox, deer, rabbit, moose and even harpooning whales.
  • Badgers are likely to endure severe haemorrhaging, increase in respiratory rate, hyperventilation, and bone injury such as bullet damage to the skull, spine, ribs and legs; soft tissue damage to the lungs, heart and liver.
  • Those badgers killed relatively quickly will likely die due to “extensive destruction of a vital organ” but those who are not shot cleanly will likely die due to wounds leading to “secondary infection and starvation because of reduced mobility.”
  • The established method of assessing death—looking for corneal reflexes—will not be used simply for logistical reasons, because it would interfere with the shooting. “The collection of data must not influence or interfere with the action of the shooters.” This means that shot but conscious badgers will be left in order to allow the shooters to carry on killing other badgers.
  • None of the shooters will have prior experience of shooting badgers; badgers shot earlier in the study are likely to be less cleanly shot because the shooters are learning on the job.
  • Read HSI/UK’s full critique [PDF].

Meanwhile, a group of veterinarians, which includes Mark Jones and TV’s Marc Abraham and Joe Inglis, has published a letter [PDF] in the Veterinary Times and Veterinary Record calling on the British Veterinary Association to withdraw its support for the cull whilst so many concerns about suffering remain.

One of the three stated objectives of the pilot badger culls due to take place this summer in Gloucestershire, Somerset or possibly Dorset, is to conduct a “humaneness” assessment of the killing methods. For more than six months, DEFRA refused repeated requests by HSI/UK to explain its humaneness criteria, and only now has revealed limited information following an appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office. As DEFRA is still refusing to answer HSI/UK’s questions about how data collected from observations of shoots and examination of badger carcasses will be used to measure suffering, it is avoiding public scrutiny and making it impossible to assess the scientific credibility of its conclusions. The Information Commissioner’s Office is now investigating.


Media Contact: Wendy Higgins, +44(0)7989 972 423,

More information:

View the DEFRA document [PDF]
Read the veterinarians’ letter [PDF]
Watch HSI/UK’s video on badger suffering featuring Bill Oddie.

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Humane Society International/UK and its partner organisations together constitute one of the world’s largest animal protection organisations — backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals through the use of science, advocacy, education and hands-on programmes. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide—on the Web at

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