What a week this has been for badgers and those of us who care about them. The big news of course has been the Badger Trust’s successful court action which has prevented the culling of badgers in Wales. Closer to home (in fact, right here in my home) I have spent the last few days helping an injured badger cub get back on his feet, and last night I watched him return to the wild.
The badger cub in question was the second of the two Brocks who I rescued at the weekend (see One weekend, two rescues). Found on the side of a minor road on Sunday morning, he had no visible injuries but was pretty much ‘out for the count’ (as you can see from the photo on Flickr). After initial treatment at Towcester Veterinary Centre, the little fellow came home with me for observation and care in quiet surroundings. (Click on the photo below to view it on Flickr, where a larger version can be seen.)
To begin with, I wondered if the cub would make it. Once he recovered from the trauma of the accident he seemed, like the yearling who I rescued on Saturday, to have full control of his front end but problems with using his hind legs. He could move them, but he didn’t seem able to stand on them. Might he have a fracture or a dislocation?
After this less than promising start, things improved quickly. On Tuesday evening, I saw the cub use his right hind leg to scratch himself – clearly there were no problems with that limb! Later that evening, while the top of the rescue cage was open during a feeding session, the little badger decided to say hello the the stuffed cub which was perched next to the cage (one of the badgers used by Brockwatch at events, see Winning friends and influencing people). This involved the cub who had survived his encounter with a car, standing up on both hind legs with forepaws on the side of the cage, while he made nose-to-nose contact with the cub who had been much less fortunate. I watched open-mouthed, delighted to see both of the living cub’s hind legs in use, if only for a short time. Once back on all fours, the adventurous youngster still seemed a bit wobbly at the back.
Yesterday evening I decided that I needed to see my patient moving around outside the confines of his cage so that I could make a better assessment of how he was getting about. My brother and sister-in-law’s back garden – with a lawn and secure fencing all round – was pressed into service for this purpose. Although the experience was rather stressful for the badger, it soon showed that he was able to get around normally, with no sign of a limp. It also showed that beyond the environment of my kitchen, my black and white friend was keen to keep his distance and had not become tame as a result of me hand-feeding him with dates!
It was clear to me that this little badger, who had seemed half-dead on Sunday morning, was now ready to go back to the wild, and the sooner the better. I brought him back home and fed him with a few more dates. Then, as 9 o’clock approached, we set off for the site of Sunday’s rescue.
I checked the road verges near the spot where the cub had been knocked down, looking for any obvious badger pathways. I could not find any. However there was a field gate very close by, providing access to sloping cattle pasture. This seemed as good a spot as any for the release. On exiting the cage, the badger could go under the gate and into the field, or take cover under the adjacent hedge.
Once I had placed the cage on the ground by the gate, it was clear that its occupant was keen to leave. Within seconds of the cage being opened, the badger was out and without a backwards glance he disappeared into the hedge. Soon it would be dusk and under the cover of darkness, the badger would have all night to get his bearings, find his way home and rejoin his family. (Click on the image below to watch a short video clip on Flickr.)
With the cub gone, I was filled with mixed emotions. Sadness, because I would almost certainly never see this beautiful creature again. And great joy at the thought of him being wild and free, as he was meant to be.
As I drove away, I realised that I still hadn’t given the cub a name. Throughout this tale I have referred to ‘him’ as ‘he’ but in fact I never did check to find out if my house guest was a boy or a girl … I mean a boar or a sow. What to name such a badger? I decided on Willow, a name used for the eponymous leading male character of the film, and also used for a female character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer!
Rather than heading straight home after Willow’s release, I made for the wood where I have enjoyed the company of so many other wild and free badgers over the last couple of years. I approached the sett there at about half past nine, wondering if the residents might already be away foraging as the light was fading and the ground was, at last, rather wet after weeks of dry weather. Within a couple of minutes of my arrival however, a badger emerged. Two minutes later, a couple of cubs rushed out of the brambles, and then began to play with two yearlings at the sett. In the rough and tumble that followed, the staccato yelps of the cubs rang out in the gathering darkness – and I imagined Willow playing happily with members of his own family.