CBC programming terrifies British badgers, study suggests

A new study from researchers at Western University in London, Ont. suggests there is nothing that terrifies British badgers more than the sounds of CBC News programming.

Research from Western University professor shows badgers more afraid of humans than bears

Liana Zanette, a researcher at Western University studied the habits of badgers as they heard the sounds of predators, including CBC Radio One programming. (Andrew Marshall Wildlife Photography)

A new study from researchers at Western University in London, Ont.  suggests there is nothing that terrifies British badgers more than the sounds of CBC News programming.

Over a five-night period, Western University ecologist Liana Zanette went out to a badger community in Oxford, U.K. just after dusk, as the animals usually came out to eat. Her team buried the badgers' favourite food — peanuts — and played them a collection of five different sounds while the badgers foraged.

The sounds included sheep, bears, wolves, dogs and people engaged in conversation. The level of perceived fear was measured by how far the badgers would leave their home and how often they'd scan for predators. 

"You'd think that hearing The Wind in the Willows read by Derek Jacobi would be as relaxing for the badgers as it is for us," Zanette said. "But it terrifies them."   

As It Happens hosts Carol Off and Jeff Douglas. Researchers played segments of their program to see how badgers would react to hearing human voices. (CBC)

As a CBC fan from London, Ont. Zanette brought recordings from CBC programs Quirks and Quarks, and As it Happens to play for the badgers.

It turned out these sounds alongside programming from the BBC's World Service and an audiobook of The Wind in the Willows were most likely to keep the animals hiding in their burrows, even though bears and wolves were historically the badgers' natural predators.

Humans historically 'persecuted' badgers 

"Humans are known to kill these smaller carnivores like badgers, raccoons and foxes," Zanette said. "We kill them at a rate four times more often than their conventional predators do. We are lethal, off the scale lethal."

Despite this, badgers have never been more protected from violence, according to the study, which was published in the journal Behavioural Ecology.

In Britain, the sport of 'badger baiting' was outlawed in 1835, and hunting badgers for sport was ended in 1973. In 1992 the British Parliament awarded badger communities full legal protection.

Only one out of eight farmers admit to having killed a badger within the past 12 months before the study. That's even though the British government occasionally approves badger culls.

Badgers remember predators 

It appears memory of violence may be passed down through different generations. Badgers continued to show fear of bears even though they've been extinct in Britain for nearly 1,000 years.

Zanette  said more research needs to be done, especially since this type of memory did not appear to apply for wolves, which have been extinct for 500 years in Britain.

Without these apex predators, humans have become 'super-predators' who do not have healthy relationships with smaller carnivores, Zanette said. She believes the results of her findings can be applied to all small carnivores, not just the badgers in the study. 

"Our human-dominated ecosystems are not healthy. The animals that live among us here don't actually like us," she said. "We're in the early days of unravelling what all this is going to mean."

With files from Nathan Swinn