European badgers (Meles meles) in Ireland and the UK are a reservoir for Mycobacterium bovis, the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (TB). A number of interventions have been evaluated in attempts to control bovine TB within badger populations, and many of which rely on the capture of badgers. One strategy being implemented within Ireland is intramuscular vaccination using Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), as an alternative to badger culling. The success of vaccination as a disease control strategy depends on the ability to capture badgers and administer vaccines; thus, trapping success is crucial to effectively vaccinate the population (maximize vaccine coverage). A field vaccine trial was conducted in County Kilkenny, Ireland, from 2010–2013. We used data from this trial to evaluate the association between weather (precipitation and temperature data), badger sett characteristics, and badger trapping success. Approximately 10% of capture efforts resulted in a badger capture. Our results indicate that badger captures were the highest in drizzle, rain, and heavy rain weather conditions, and when minimum temperatures ranged from 3–8 °C. Badger captures were the highest at main setts (large burrow systems), and when sett activity scores were high (qualitative classes 4 or 5). Using local precipitation and temperature data in conjunction with observed sett characteristics provides wildlife managers with guidelines to optimize trapping success. Implementing capture operations under optimal conditions should increase the trapping success of badgers and allow for increased delivery of vaccines to manage bovine TB.
Wildlife management Badger capture probability Climate effects Wildlife vaccine
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We thank the field staff who made this study possible and John Cummins and Richie Browne in particular. Thanks to Danny Martin for his assistance with map creation. Comments from Tom Hobbs, Beth Ross, Emily Weiser, Drew Ricketts, and Bram Verheijen improved earlier drafts of this manuscript.
Compliance with ethical standards
LEM was supported by the Morris Animal Foundation Veterinary Fellowship for Advanced Study (grant ID: D15ZO-906). This manuscript has not been reviewed or endorsed by the Morris Animal Foundation, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. The fieldwork was funded by the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All badger captures were conducted under licenses issued by the Irish Department of Health & Children and approved by the University College Dublin animal ethics committee. All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.
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