Under current operating protocols, where herds are identified with a serious outbreak of bovine tuberculosis, and where my Department’s epidemiological investigations into the cause of the breakdown implicates badgers as a possible source, a capturing program is set up in the local area. The aims of the program are to manage the local population of badgers downward to mitigate badger to cattle transmission. An annual culling effort is managed to ensure these lower density levels are maintained. The long-term culling of badgers is not ideal or sustainable. They are protected by national legislation and are listed within the Berne Convention. Therefore, they are captured under a licence granted to my Department by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Field trials testing the effectiveness of badger vaccination as an alternative to removal were conducted from 2014 to 2017 in areas where the wildlife program had been running in excess of 5 years and where local densities of badgers were considered low enough to be suitable candidates for vaccination with BCG. The findings confirmed that vaccination of badgers can play a role in reducing the level of infection in cattle.
From January 2018 the formal vaccination programme commenced in the areas which formed part of the field trials, i.e. in parts of counties Monaghan, Longford, Galway, Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny, Cork and in all of Louth. Badgers in a vaccination area will be captured/vaccinated/released instead of being captured/culled. The vaccination program will continue on an annual basis, so each year’s births in vaccination areas will be vaccinated as they are captured. The vaccination area will be expanded incrementally to all parts of the country during the 2018-2022 period. I cannot be more specific in terms of a timescale for implementing the vaccination programme on a county by county basis given that capturing of badgers takes place only in areas where serious outbreaks of TB are identified and my Department finds following an epidemiological examination that badgers are the likely source of infection. In addition, to achieve optimum results, areas under consideration for vaccination must have a low badger density and a cattle population that is testing clear, all of which are taken into account in deciding the way forward with managing TB outbreaks in any given area.