IT IS a barbaric crime that stirs such visceral revulsion that it was outlawed almost 200 years ago.
However, an undercover investigator for the Scottish SPCA has revealed that badger baiting is thriving in 21st-century Scotland.
Hundreds of incidents related to the illegal blood sport, where live badgers are torn apart by hunting dogs, have been reported in recent years – including about 40 in 2013 alone.
Wildlife crime investigators have revealed that gangs in Scotland are plotting fights online, using lethal new breeds of fighting dogs and exchanging horrific images of the contests via mobile phones and social media.
A senior member of the Scottish SPCA’s Special Investigations Unit confirmed the activity was rife, particularly in the Central Belt between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The undercover officer, who conducts covert surveillance and investigations into illegal animal fighting across the country, said: “Sadly, the barbaric activity of badger baiting is alive and well in Scotland.
“It’s taking place on a very regular basis and every weekend there will be badger digging and baiting happening.
“The people who are involved are die-hard, well organised and utterly committed. There are very few crimes which surpass the cruelty involved.”
The animal welfare detective is convinced the activity is motivated by sadistic pleasure rather than financial gain, stating: “It doesn’t involve money or betting.
“For the individuals involved the enjoyment comes from watching their dog fight with the badger.
“It almost always involves the dogs sustaining serious injuries and ends with the badger being killed, either from being ripped apart by the dogs or being battered over the head with a shovel.”
He added: “It’s a horrendous death for a badger and we’ve seen some sights which are extremely harrowing.
“They scream for up to 40 minutes while these dogs literally pull them to pieces.
“It’s really horrible to hear. When you add a crowd of baying men into the mix you have a truly nauseating and primitive spectacle.”
The Scottish SPCA is working closely with Police Scotland to gather evidence of baiting across the country and mounting surveillance at known hot spots.
A key part of its strategy involves investigating reports of dogs with suspicious injuries.
The officer explained: “The dogs are often left with serious injuries but, if they survive, they are rarely taken to a vet.
“The classic injury associated with badger baiting leaves the dogs without any skin or tissue under the jaw so there is bare bone showing. These are not nice people we are dealing with, but people can rest assured that any information will be treated in the strictest of confidence.
“We are not looking for witnesses. If they bring their suspicions to our attention we’ll do the rest.”
He also claimed that online investigations were helping to bring wildlife criminals to their attention.
He said: “These individuals are communicating on the internet and social media, swapping images, photographs and stories and boasting about what they have done.
“We’ve seized computers which are filled with images and films of badger baiting and digging. In a recent case we uncovered 27,000 images on a computer which all related to badger cruelty. We have also recovered trophies, including a rare albino badger which had been killed, stuffed and presented as a prize.”
The officer, who wished to remain anonymous, also said he and his colleagues were receiving an increase in reports about individuals and gangs using a new breed of dog.
He said: “They are now using bull-lurchers, which is a cross between a running dog, most commonly a greyhound, and an American pitbull terrier. What you end up with is a dog which is big, muscular, heavy and powerful enough to kill badgers, which have an extremely strong bite if they are cornered or attacked.
“The dog is like a greyhound on steroids and it is used to savage the badger after the terriers dig down into the sett and expose it.”
The investigator insists it is wrong to associate the practice with poorly-educated, habitual criminals.
He said: “There are all cultures and classes involved. We have good intelligence that people from affluent professional backgrounds are involved in this.”
Conservation and welfare charity Scottish Badgers has recorded about 200 incidents related to baiting since 2010.
However, species protection officer Ian Hutchison is convinced the problem is far more widespread.
He said: “This is pretty much the tip of the iceberg as the vast majority of the incidents will go undetected.
“Because of the rural areas and the massive tracks of land that no-one ever goes near, apart from a handful of gamekeepers, criminal gangs have had free rein to do whatever they want, although that is starting to change now.
“There are a number of individuals and gangs operating between Edinburgh and the west coast who are known to us and the police and are now being targeted.”
Hutchison also revealed the period around Christmas was the worst for the crime.
He said: “Increasingly, we are finding that badger setts are being attacked in the winter months. Badgers don’t hibernate, but they are far more likely to be in their setts around this time of year.”
Anyone with information on badger baiting should contact the Scottish SPCA on 03000-999-999.