SARS and badgers


Press Release: 6 Jan 04

Press release from the National Federation of Badger Groups, UK

Conservationists today clarified suggestions in the UK media that 'badgers'may be subject to controls in China to deal with a new outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) [1], the animals found to carry SARS-like viruses in a Chinese market in 2003 were civet cats,racoon-dogs and one ferret badger.

'True' badgers are found in the sub-family Melinae. This sub-family contains six genera. One of these (genus Meles) includes the Eurasian badger which is found in Britain. Another includes the Chinese ferret badger (genus Melogale) which is being targeted by the Chinese authorities.

The Chinese ferret badger is one of the most primitive of the 'true badgers'. There are three, or possibly four, species of ferret badger [2]. All the species are small (up to 430mm), omnivorous and can live in close proximity to people.

The obvious question which may be asked is: can ferret badgers transmit SARS to humans? According to the WHO in May 2003, 'Much more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be reached. At present, no evidence exists to suggest that these wild animal species play a significant role in the epidemiology of SARS outbreaks.'

In response to the latest outbreak involving one man in Guangdong, the WHO states: 'The source of infection for this newly confirmed case remains unclear. Several lines of investigation last year suggest that SARS may have originated from contact with wild animals sold for human consumption at live markets in southern China... However, no animal reservoir of the SARS coronavirus has been conclusively identified to date.' [3]

Dr Elaine King, Chief Executive of the National Federation of Badger Groups (NFBG) said: "The NFBG welcomes proposals in China to close its wild animal markets, which hold ferret badgers, Eurasian badgers and other animals captive in inhumane and often filthy conditions. However, given the lack of evidence for a link between SARS and wild animals, we believe that a widespread cull of wild animals is premature and unjustified.

"We also want to reassure people that there is virtually no chance that Britain's badgers will ever pose any SARS risk to people. There is no evidence to suggest that Britain's badgers could harbour SARS or are likely to acquire it. Furthermore, the chances of people being exposed to the virus if badgers ever acquired it are negligible. A minority of British badgers can harbour another zoonosis - bovine TB - but no-one is known to have ever contracted this infection from a badger."

[1] Update 64 - Situation in Toronto, detection of SARS-like virus in wild animals, 23 May 2003 at 'Research teams in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China have today announced the results of a joint study of wild animals taken from a market, in southern China, selling wild animals for human consumption. The study detected several coronaviruses closely related genetically to the SARS coronavirus in two of the animal species tested (masked palm civet and racoon-dog). The study also found that one additional species (Chinese ferret badger) elicited antibodies against the SARS coronavirus. These and other wild animals are traditionally considered delicacies and are sold for human consumption in markets throughout southern China.'

[2] Badgers, Ernest Neal and Chris Cheeseman, T&AD Poyser Natural History, 1996.

[3] Laboratory confirmation of a SARS case in southern China - update 2, 5 January 2004, Disease Outbreak Reported, at