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Despite extensive long-term eradication programmes, bovine tuberculosis (bTB) remains endemic in much of the British Isles. The cost of the national eradication programme in Northern Ireland was estimated at £23 million in 2010/2011.1 There is evidence that badgers play a role in the maintenance and spread of Mycobacterium bovis to cattle (as reviewed by Allen and others2). Northern Ireland is a small country (13,843 km2) with an agricultural land that is dominated by grass production, which supports 1.6 million cattle among 20,000 farms.3 The estimated badger population of 34,100 (95 per cent confidence interval (CI) 26,200 to 42,000) is widespread and contained within 7600 social groups (95 per cent CI 6200 to 9000).4 A road traffic accident (RTA) survey began in 1998 in Northern Ireland with the aim of describing the occurrence of M bovis within the badger population.
A wildlife officer and a dedicated collection vehicle were used to collect badger carcases for the survey. All reports of badger carcases found on roads were followed up where possible. To minimise reporting bias, the reporting of carcases was initially limited to the employees of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and certain other public sector organisations, but it was later widened to include herd keepers and members of the public. Any carcases found where the cause of death was suspected to be non-accidental were reported to the local police wildlife officer and were excluded from the study. Only carcases deemed suitable for postmortem examination were taken to the nearer of the two veterinary diagnostic laboratories (located in Belfast or Omagh).
Submitted carcases were placed in a class I fume cabinet or on a down ventilated bench, where a detailed postmortem examination was normally carried out within 24 hours of submission (see Fig 1). The sex and approximate age of the badger were recorded, and the carcase was examined for abscesses and wounds. The …
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