Badgers are being slaughtered illegally over “pseudoscience” false claims fat from the animals can cure Covid-19.
They are being killed in Russia because of bogus claims which promote the quack cure, despite no evidence being provided.
It comes as the country faces its worst daily infection and death figures from Covid-19.
Boffins slammed the claims and said they have no “scientific basis”.
Poachers were detained for slaughtering five males and four females as they hibernated in Siberia.
The gang of four men used dogs to pull the badgers from their dens, then shot them near Loris-Melikovo village in Omsk region.
The animals were slaughtered after a Russian hunting ban came into effect last month.
Officers seized firearms, shovels, an axe, and cartridges in a case seen as the tip of an iceberg of badger slaying.
Badger fat has been used in traditional medicine for years but now is being marketed for treating severe coronavirus.
A seller in Novosibirsk said the price of badger fat “cures” has spiralled due to high demand.
Tatyana Koreneva said: “The demand is huge, the price has doubled.”
She said it now retails for £40 a litre, adding: “In cities it is even more expensive.”
But senior doctors were scathing over claims that badger fat offers any cure.
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Lung specialist Dr Irina Menshchikova, of Omsk Regional clinical Hospital, said it was like “a drowning man grasping at a straw”.
The “panic” over coronavirus meant “such pseudo-scientific myths are beginning to spread”.
The doctor added: “However, no animal fats – whether badger, dog or bear – are ever used in the treatment of infectious diseases.
“These are fats that are foreign to the human body and can do more harm than good.
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“There is no scientific basis for treatment with animal fats.”
Tatyana Komissarova, chief physician at Novosibirsk Children's Infectious Diseases Hospital No. 3, said: "I have deep respect for ancient traditions, no-one was cured with badger fat.”
She warned: “Coronavirus is a respiratory virus.
“Badger fat has nothing to do with it.
“People just sometimes go crazy, and they treat their throat with kerosene, and do many others mad things.
“Nothing miraculous happens, I would definitely not go to buy badger fat now."
A criminal case was opened under which convicted poachers can be jailed for up to five years over the badger slaughter which had a notional cost of £9,500 to wildlife.
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