Wednesday, April 14 WINC received a phone call from a county highway worker in Jefferson County who had seen a dead adult badger and a dead baby badger in the road. The baby was small enough to still be nursing, so I went to the scene to look for the set (badger burrow) in case any more babies would venture out looking for their mother. Badgers have 1-3 kits so there was a chance there were orphans out there needing help. I walked the area roads and found 2 sets, both newly dug. Badgers dig big holes with a huge earth mound outside. No need to camouflage their home like woodchucks or ground squirrels. No one is going into a badger burrow! Unfortunately the signs were unclear and I didn’t see any babies.
I decided to stop by each of the neighbors’ houses and either talked to people or left notes explaining the situation with the badgers and asking if they saw any more babies or knew where other sets were to please call us. I spent the better part of 3 days watching the sets but saw no activity and started to believe there was a chance that there was only one baby.
Since the sets were new, mom may have been moving the babies and the other babies were at the old set, which I had yet to find. I continued to drive by before and after work but saw no signs of animals.
On Tuesday, April 20 WINC received a call that a baby had been seen near one of the sets. It had been nearly a week since the dead mother had been called in. I felt sick. What terrible shape the poor baby must be in. I thought to myself, “how could I have missed it? I should have tried harder.”
I put aside bills, deposits and banquet work and within 10 minutes was on the road. At the scene, I sat in the ditch next to the set – a kennel cab at my side, long leather handling gloves on, and a net lying in the grass above the burrow. About every 5 minutes a vehicle would drive by. Many of the people stopped to ask what I was doing. Talking doesn’t help lure scared babies out into the open so I was as short as possible with them. I watched the burrow for 15 minutes, then thought “I really hope that another adult badger hasn’t taken this burrow over.” I didn’t think it would appreciate coming out and finding a human sitting a foot from his door step. Then I heard some grunting and growling and out popped a little badger head! I waited, trying to stay calm and relaxed, then a car drove by and it went back in the hole. Another couple of minutes passed, grunting and growling, then it came ½ way out and laid in the sun. It was mouthing at a grass tuft and nibbling on some nearby rocks. Then another car came by and she was gone. Finally it came out far enough, again preceeded by growls and grunts, about 8” long and tottering on weak little legs. It took 3 tries with the net before I finally netted it, dragged it to me, scruffed it, and popped it in my kennel cab. I was saying thank you to the universe that I caught it! The baby was not so happy; sounding like a very angry panther in the kennel cab.
It screeched and hissed, growled and huffed for about 15 minutes. I hoped that these calls would lure any other babies out of the set. It has been my experience over the years that this is a good tactic for catching orphaned woodchucks. But no signs of sound or movement materialized.
Once the badger was here, Animal Care staff examined her and found her uninjured and in surprisingly good shape, although dehydrated and thin. Sub-cue (injected under the skin) fluids were given and oral rehydrating solution was offered in a baby bottle. She caught on quite quickly although she made a few faces at the fruit flavoring – what, no mouse flavoring?
She needed more fluids, both oral and sub-cue thru the night which led to me taking her home over night. What a privilege to see and help such a rare animal. And what a balm to my sad heart over her mother and sibling’s death.
By morning I was in love – ok, really the moment I first saw her little head peek from the hole I was a goner. But later this morning she was off with our volunteer Rick to Pine View Wildlife Rehab in Ozaukee County. They have more experience and better caging for a badger. And maybe they will get another baby from somewhere else yet this season to keep her company. Even though we’ll miss her and the opportunity to care for such an extraordinary animal, it’s the best thing for her that she goes. We make this choice often with animals when we know of other rehabbers or centers who are better equipped or skilled, and they often do the same for us too! But those special minutes in the night caring for her will always be with me.