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December 6, 2013

Great digger makes rare appearance

Photo by Sue Ollar
This American badger (Taxidea taxus) popped up in a residential area of Fort Irwin, Oct. 27.

On the evening of Oct. 27 a badger was observed digging outside a residential fence in cantonment, here. A biologist with Directorate of Public Works responded to the scene to find a healthy badger eagerly digging just beyond the Fort Irwin Garrison commander’s fence. The badger was reported to be aggressive towards some children, who ventured too close, so it was decided to relocate the animal.

Bystanders were moved to a safe distance while a small team of Military Police, the biologist, and Col. Jon Braga dislodged the busy digger from its hole, capturing it with a catch pole (a noose pole commonly seen used by animal control for capturing dogs and coyotes). The animal was placed in a pet carrier and immediately relocated to Bitter Springs, an area with suitable habitat that is off-limits to military training.

The American badger (Taxidea taxus) is a member of the Mustelid family (weasels and wolverines). This predominately nocturnal carnivore has a stocky build, powerful forearms, and formidable claws. They use their physical attributes to hunt ground-dwelling rodents (i.e. ground squirrels, gophers, kangaroo rats). Badgers are typically solitary, except during spring when females are rearing young. They generally occur in low densities, 0.2 to 5 individuals per square kilometer. Badgers are such highly efficient predators that they often eradicate local populations of burrowing rodents before moving on to a new area where prey is abundant. As a result, badgers lead fairly nomadic lives that often require them to travel, on average, 2.8 km each night searching for prey. During a single night a badger will leave behind a trail of freshly dug holes that may be used later as dens by coyotes, tortoises, snakes, skunks and burrowing owls.

Despite their aggressive reputation, badgers generally pose little threat to humans. Badgers put on defensive displays when cornered or approached too closely, but are not likely to attack a person unless provoked. Females with young offspring can be aggressive in defense of offspring. Badger activity declines during the coldest months of winter when they may remain in a single burrow for days or weeks in a state of torpor (reduced body temperature and metabolic rate).

While not typically dangerous to humans, badgers are sometimes perceived to be a risk to pets. Badgers are not particularly fast movers or good climbers. Most healthy adult house cats can easily escape them. Small, unattended dogs may be at risk, but badgers are only likely to injure a large breed of dog if the dog attacks first. The best way to protect pets from negative encounters with badgers is to obey leash laws. If you think a badger is digging a burrow in your yard or work area contact DPW Environmental Division to have the animal trapped and relocated. It is not advisable to physically confront a badger.

Badgers have been listed by the California Department of Fish and Game as a species of special concern due to their state-wide population decline and disappearance from large sections of the state. Because of such low densities, encounters with badgers are rare at Fort Irwin, with only two sightings in the last year and one capture/relocation. To assist in preserving this species on Fort Irwin, report all sightings of this animal and address information requests to the DPW at 380-3740 or 380-2681.




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