A blog helped an animal charity investigate badger baiting
A secret blog was a key tactic in a plan to snare badger baiters who enjoy watching dogs tear badgers apart, an animal charity has said.
The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said its blog proved crucial in uncovering the secrets of badger baiting.
It quickly became accepted as an all-Ireland forum, the charity said.
As people bragged and posted pictures of badgers being mauled, the USPCA said they watched and learned.
So-called "badger diggers" shared information about how they could escape detection. The animal welfare charity was tracking every word.
The website was set up as part of an investigation into badger baiting across Ireland carried out by the USPCA and the Sunday Times newspaper. The blog is now closed.
Badgers are protected in Northern Ireland by the Animal Welfare Act 1972 and the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985.
Badgers are protected under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985.
Under the Welfare of Animals Act NI 1972, a person can be found guilty of animal cruelty and can face up to three months in prison or a fine, depending on the specific circumstances of the case.
Stephen Philpott from the USPCA has called for a ban on hunting
Stephen Philpott, chief executive of the USPCA, said the blog was "key" to uncovering the truth about badger baiting.
"The scale of persecution shocked everyone," he said.
"Groups meet twice a week throughout the 'season'. Badgers are dragged from the sett into broad daylight and set upon by dogs in a foretaste of future suffering known as a 'shake'.
"After a merciless mauling, the traumatised creatures are returned to the sett to await the next session of torment. This time its fate is sealed and an agonising death is the inevitable outcome."
The charity said hundreds of badgers were killed each year to satisfy this "blood lust".
They appealed to people to be vigilant and report any information to the police.
"Gangs of men with dogs and shovels are not invisible," Mr Philpott said, "Police need information and need to act on it."
The charity also called for a ban on hunting in Northern Ireland.