Wildlife experts in Britain have criticised a controversial plan to cull thousands of wild badgers in a bid to control the spread of tuberculosis among cattle.
They say the proposal to kill the black and white nocturnal creatures in certain counties is a costly distraction that risks increasing incidences of the disease.
"We believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it," Patrick Bateson, president of the Zoological Society of London, said in a letter to the Observer newspaper signed by 30 other wildlife experts.
"Even if such increases do not materialise, the government predicts only limited benefits ... We are concerned that badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control," the letter said.
The move is opposed by celebrities including the veteran nature show presenter David Attenborough and has raised the threat of action by militant animal rights activists.
The government says nearly $2 billion will be needed in the next decade to control the disease if no action is taken now.
Britain's forestry commission says there are about 250,000 adult badgers in the United Kingdom.
Marksmen are set to start the cull soon but details are being kept secret for fear of clashes between farmers determined to protect their livestock and animal rights activists.