An unexpected death

Whenever I am called out to rescue an injured badger I naturally hope for a happy ending, one in which the casualty gets a second chance after receiving treatment and recovering from his or her wounds. Watching the animal you rescued going back to the wild is a truly uplifting experience. As I found out once again yesterday however, it can be very difficult to predict which rescues will end happily.

I was half way through a day’s overtime at work when my mobile buzzed. The caller told me that he had found an injured badger in his outhouse, which was normally the residence of several semi-feral cats. After finding that no other Brockwatch rescue officers were immediately available, off I went on another mission of mercy.

The location of the badger, and the description of his injuries, suggested that this was another victim of a Brock-on-Brock fight (like Brandon, the badger I rescued a few weeks ago – see A week in the life (Part 2)). Such scraps can result in wounds around the ears and neck, with the loser typically receiving a nasty bite on the rump. Although often characterised as territorial fight wounds, inflicted during battles between badgers from different clans, I suspect that these injuries are often the result of fighting within a clan during the peak of the breeding season and at times of food shortage. Dominant badgers put their subordinates in their place through such tussles, with the subordinates sometimes paying a heavy price. A badger has powerful jaws and formidable canine teeth (as you can see from the photo here) which can cause deep bite wounds when used in anger. Those wounds can become badly infected and, during the warmer months, flyblown too. Badgers suffering from such injuries seem to take themselves as far away as possible from others of their kind, often turning up in gardens, outbuildings and other places, close to humans, where you would not normally expect to find them.

Once yesterday’s casualty (pictured below, click on the image to view on Flickr) was secured inside my rescue cage, a quick examination revealed that he had indeed got a large rump wound plus injuries behind his right ear and signs of scarring from past conflicts. Although he had the ‘injured badger smell’ which I know all too well, the rump wound was for the most part well crusted over, those wounds which were open looked ‘clean’ and there was no sign of flystrike. The battered Brock was alert and, unlike Brandon at the time of his rescue, of a good body weight. He had probably been sharing the food put out for the cats for a while.

I took the badger to Towcester Veterinary Centre, where the staff have dealt with many badgers taken in by Brockwatch over the years. Later that afternoon a phone call from the surgery confirmed that the wounds were healing well. A long-lasting antibiotic had been administered and the patient could be collected. I then spoke to Angela Downham at the Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital, who advised that if wound powder was applied to the open wounds, our badger could go home that evening (she also let me know that Brandon was doing well and might be fit for release in another couple of weeks or so). I therefore arranged to collect the casualty from Towcester and return him to the garden of the property where he had been found.

Unfortunately, while I was en route to the veterinary surgery, the badger died. Presumably he had other, less visible problems such as a secondary infection, blood poisoning or some unrelated internal injury. He had looked so much better than Brandon had when I rescued him, and his chances of survival had seemed really good, so his unexpected death was quite a blow.

On my way back home, with an empty badger rescue cage in the back of the car, I decided to call in on my regular watching sett even though I would arrive there much later than I would normally choose to. Approaching the sett shortly before nine o’clock, I could see no badgers around and, having found half a bag of raisins in the car, I scattered a few handfuls of them over the sett. The first two badgers to emerge after this, shortly before 9:05pm, came out of holes some distance from the nearest raisins and so left the sett without being aware of the free meal which was available.

One of those badgers was Radar, who identified himself by checking out the sycamore tree to see if there was any peanut butter to be had there (as there was on Tuesday evening, when I took the photo below; click on the image to view on Flickr). Finding none, he moved off into the brambles to the east of the sett to search for food which did not come from jars. Two other badgers, both yearlings, did find the raisins when they surfaced a few minutes later, and they spent the next quarter of an hour diligently foraging for them. It was good to see live, healthy badgers and as I had hoped, for a while at least this helped to take my mind off the one who didn’t make it back to the wild.

Badger skull photo by Lamerie and used under Creative Commons licence 2.0. See the original on Flickr. All other photos by the author.

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2 Responses to An unexpected death

  1. Judy Kennett says:

    I have so much admiration for the work you do with Badgers. I am sorry to hear that this particular one didn’t make it because you did everything you could to help. Perhaps it was shock, or as you say internal injuries, but still its very sad. I am glad you were able to find some comfort with your healthy Badger chums:)

  2. Dan Belton says:

    It’s such a shame you lost the poor thing but like Judy it’s great to know there are people like you looking out for badgers. I suppose some crumb of comfort would be that it died ‘ naturally ‘. I often see bite marks around the neck and rump; I’ll keep a careful eye on them to see if they get worse. I really enjoy your blog by the way and have learnt a lot !

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