Fears have been raised about illegal badger baiting after one of the creatures was found dead with duct tape over its snout.
The badger was discovered wrapped in a fabric dog jacket within two plastic carrier bags in Craigmillar Castle Park on Wednesday afternoon.
A shocked member of the public who made the grim discovery alerted the Scottish Animal Welfare agency, which is now investigating the incident alongside police.
Its decomposed carcass was just two metres away from a makeshift fighting ring, believed to have been used to trap the animal before dogs were set on it.
A hole measuring around three square feet had been dug into the earth, surrounded by fibreglass edging.
Scottish Animal Welfare’s chief superintendent David Drummond said such a discovery was “not unheard of”, but certainly unusual. He urged anyone with information to come forward.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this setup has been used for badger baiting,” he said. “This is a barbaric blood sport that sees dogs and badgers fight to the death – resulting in leaving the other animal with horrendous injuries, often left untreated.
“We would appeal to anyone who has seen anything suspicious in the area, or who has any information, to contact our 24-hour animal helpline in confidence.”
When the carcass was first uncovered, it was so badly decomposed that it was believed to be a dog, but a post-mortem confirmed it was a badger.
Mr Drummond said he suspected that the culprits had broken one of the badger’s hind legs to ensure it was helpless when being targeted by the dogs.
Badgers – the UK’s largest carnivore and a protected species – are a secretive and nocturnal animal, and are perceived by some to be aggressive. Their supposed ferocity has led to a rise in badger baiting, which carries a six-month jail sentence.
Not only does the activity often have fatal consequences for badgers, the dogs involved can suffer horrific injuries which are covered up by their owner for fear of being caught.
In April this year, a father and son from Lanarkshire were banned from owning dogs for ten years and ordered to carry out 250 hours’ community service for badger baiting.
They had been found guilty of sending a dog into a badger sett and attempting to kill one of the creatures.
Conservation and welfare charity Scottish Badgers has recorded about 200 incidents related to baiting since 2010, while the Scottish SPCA has said the activity is “rife throughout the central belt including the Lothians”.
Police Scotland confirmed its officers were aware of the incident at Craigmillar Castle Park.