So – Who Ate all the Custard Creams?
I'm part of Oxfordshire Badger Group volunteer rescue service and help to capture and transport injured or orphaned badgers to a wildlife rescue. In January, I was one of five Members of Oxfordshire Badger Group to participate in an online seminar provided by Secret World Wildlife Rescue (SWWR). Pauline Kidner and Liz Mullineaux delivered this and in such experienced and knowledgeable hands our four hours training flew by.
Pauline is the Founder of SWWWR and Founder of Wildlife and Badger Care, a volunteer group that provides night-time advice and wildlife rescue. With more than 30 years of wildlife rehabilitation experience and a special interest in badgers she is one of our go-to people for advice and support with challenging badger cases, especially young cubs. Liz Mullineaux is a practicing Vet and Scientific Advisor to SWWR. She has worked with the charity for over 25 years.
We started with an overview of the Mustelidae genus, noting that badgers are related to the Pine Marten, Stoat, Weasel, Ferret, Polecat, Mink and Otter. We heard that Badgers are opportunistic omnivores. This is helpful when they must be in captivity for rehabilitation as a wide range of foods can be used to tempt them into eating. In the wild, whilst earthworms are their single most important food source, they also eat fruit, seeds, insects, small mammals, including rats, mice, and rabbits, as well as roadkill, and crops such as wheat and maize. Truly omnivorous! We tackled the ‘do badgers eat hedgehogs’ question early on with Liz explaining that badgers will learn to eat hedgehogs in locations where we humans have forced their territories together.
Also, early on we heard that whilst persecution accounts for more than 10,000 deaths per year, more than 50,000 Badgers die on the roads and some 200,000 Badgers have been legally culled.
A rescue badger is triaged on arrival at SSWR and assessed to see if it is likely that it can go back to where it was found and survive alongside other badgers, with no detriment.
Pauline talked us through the care of Badgers in captivity and gave some important pointers for those of us who might get involved in Badger rescue. These included pre-weighing cages and carefully recording where the badger was found, how long it was there, was the behaviour normal and any obvious injuries or problems. Note any blindness, bleeding, lameness, or circling.
Orphaned cubs -
I found the information about cubs particularly interesting as I have only seen those who are more than four months old and active, with mum. Pauline told us how cubs can be described – size: palm of your hand? Small cat? Coat - pink or a little fur present? Eyes open or closed? (5 weeks old before they open). Still or mobile? Cold to touch? Crying or distressed, or quiet? Chubby and healthy? A ‘found cub’ may be orphaned or abandoned, or if incredibly young, removed from the sett by a dog.
Is it really orphaned? Choices of action are:
- To monitor in the field and if possible, return to the sett
- Removal for hand rearing
- Return to the sett after assessment /treatment and provide supplementary food.
Removal for hand rearing is a huge decision because once in captivity badger cubs must be reared in groups, are not weaned from bottle feeding until at least 8 weeks old (10-12 weeks) and finding suitable release sites is difficult.
Feeding time ..
Honey, Complan and egg is an easy food especially with cubs, using a lambing tube into the badger gum area and gradually moving it down towards a dish. Imagine how time consuming a single cub will be – and then multiply that for multiple admissions. And of course, adults, which are a different sort of challenge – quite a feisty one!
From 8-10 weeks of age cubs start to be weaned with tasters of puppy food, scrambled egg, porridge, Weetabix, Milupa on a dessertspoon to see if interested. And yes, this is where those Custard Creams often get eaten. It seems like our stripey friends have a sweet tooth!
At 10-12 weeks Cubs have longer fur and are able to move. From 12-14 weeks, once interested in food (do not forget those Custard cream temptations) then bottle feeding is reduced from 4 to 3 per day, and then halved when they are really interested in more solid based puppy meat, cooked chicken, grapes, fruit cake, sausage.
There was so much of interest and importance in this four-hour seminar – it was good that five of us took part and so have knowledge to share and build on. If you are interested in understanding more about Badger rehabilitation and release, it may be that SWWR will run more courses.
Note: OBG paid Members are eligible to register for the Badger Trust's webinar ' dealing with badger cubs' which is based on Andy Parr’s book. Details of how to book for the first course on 30th March (1900-2030) will be sent to members.
Further reading/ watching
The OBG badger rescue protocol is available to via the Volunteer resources area of our website (password required). It covers the rescue and transport of badgers to a wildlife hospital and is based on best practice set out in the Secret World book by Liz Mullineaux.
Two books may be of interest –
An Introduction to Wildlife Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release -Edited by Elizabeth Mullineaux published by Secret World Wildlife rescue
The Rehabilitator’s and Badger Enthusiast’s Handbook by Andy Parr, published by Lancashire Badger Group.
Secret World have several wonderful videos on Youtube showing how they raise badger cubs.
For example, if you have half an hour, you can watch Hope the Orphaned badger cub's story (2012) ;
Part 2 and