It is feared that gangs are stealing badgers to use in illegal dog fights – pitting the animals against one other for high-stakes gambling matches.
Campaigners say such criminals have been given a “green light” for cruelty since badger culls were approved in the South West in 2013, to stop the spread of bovine TB.
Rod Leach, of the High Peak Badger Group (HPBG), said: “Since the culls began, figures show that cruelty against badgers has doubled nationally. In rural Derbyshire, there has been an episode of horrendous badger cruelty every single week for the past six weeks. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This level of cruelty is completely unprecedented.”
Last month, we reported how badgers were struck with spades during attacks on setts in the Peak District. A seriously mutilated badger was found close to one of five setts which HPBG said had been interfered with.
Rod said: “We have substantiated information that illegal gambling is playing a part in this rapid increase. Criminals put badgers up against the dogs in these illegal fights for more fun.
“But the mind-set of these criminals is ‘badgers are being killed in other parts of the country, so they’re now fair game’. But badgers are a protected species and it is illegal to interfere with them in any way.”
Police and wildlife groups have now stepped-up patrols in the Peaks and Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Charles has recently pledged to tackle the problem.
Rod said: “We need the public to help us too. We need rural communities to be the eyes and ears in the field, as it is near enough impossible to catch these criminals in the act, owing to the remote locations of badger setts.
“If you think you see cruelty happening call 999, the police are serious about tackling this. But if you hear about any suspicious activity, or come across a sett that has been interfered with, be sure to call police on 101, call crimestoppers, or any local wildlife group. “But do not approach these people. They are not countrymen, they are criminals, and potentially very dangerous.”
A Derbyshire police spokesman added: “The kind of individuals who commit these horrific crimes are by nature often aggressive and violent people and may well be involved in various other crimes and they should therefore never be approached directly.”