Gangs are using a vicious new breed of powerful hunting dog to fight badgers in the countryside.

Powerful “bull-lurchers”, a cross between the illegal pitbull terrier and a lurcher, are being unleashed on badgers in terrifying combat which invariably ends with the creature being ripped to pieces.

Baiters are staging the late night fights in a new twist on their outlawed “sport” because of the success of conservationists to protect badger setts. The gruesome contests are often filmed so the baiters have a trophy of the sadistic actions.

Traditionally, baiters would send small dogs underground to locate badgers, which would then be dug up and confronted by packs of terriers.

In a shocking new departure, the baiters now stalk foraging badgers in the darkness with bright spot lamps before releasing the bull-lurchers.

Even the bravest badger is no match for a pair of hunting dogs, which are built for both speed and ferocity, and working in unison. The appalling levels of violence has prompted the launch of Operation Meles, an initiative between the RSPCA, police, the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Badger Trust and other animal welfare groups. They are working together to gather evidence of baiting, which includes targeting “hot spots”, to track down offenders and prosecute them. The public is also urged to report badger baiting.

Baiters have been using social networking sites to communicate and have begun changing tactics because of the success of animal welfare groups in protecting setts, particularly in South Yorkshire which is a notorious centre of badger crime.

RSPCA Chief Superintendent Barry Fryer said last night: “Unlike dog fighting and cock fighting, which are predominantly based around gambling, badger-baiting is more about the pride these people have in the gameness of their dogs. They boast about the scars and injuries their dogs receive. We have seen horrendous footage of two dogs ripping a badger apart. It is never a fair fight.”

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