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Authorities to control wildlife in Victoria: How many are issued?

Life on land

“The reasons given for issuing ATCW permits and killing these animals are trite at best and include they eat grass, damage fences, are fouling water and migrating weeds (cattle and other farmed animals do these things far more effectively than native animals can ever do)”. Peter Hylands

Peter Hylands

June 3, 2023

I have asked the Victorian Government a series of questions regarding native animals being killed by government permit In Victoria (latest March 2023), all of which should be reported in the annual ATCW data.

Victoria needs a consolidated wildlife reporting system, not the drift to the opposite

What we are noticing is that more and more of the native wildlife that is being killed in Victoria is not appearing in the annual ATCW data. The number of native animals killed and not reported through the ATCW system looks to be substantial.

One of the questions I have asked the Victorian Government (Q5) follows –

Question five – when will the ATCW data for 2022 be published and of all the native animals that were killed through various government schemes and mechanisms, data from which schemes and mechanisms that enable the killing of native wildlife will be excluded from having to report the killing via ATCW reports (Koalas and the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos, numbers of joeys killed, non protected species, mass killing of birdlife for recreation are examples)?

The point being, we need to have a comprehensive list of what is actually being killed, rather than departmentalised schemes and mechanisms, some of which are not reported (and some appear secretive) that do not allow the public to get a proper understanding of the true scale of the killing. Unless, that is, they spend hours wading through obscure and hard to find government documents or be bothered to go through the hurdles and expense of an FOI request.

Number of Authority to control wildlife permits issued in Victoria

This section gives the number of Authority to control wildlife permits (ATCWs) by species issued by the Victorian Government 2009-2021 (excludes killing of wildlife for commercial purposes and pouched and at-foot joeys and other young from 2019 and other categories mentioned in this analysis).

In 2017 the ATCW report contained this information. ATCWs are sometimes issued for the non-lethal control of some threatened species as follows:

  • Brolga: issued to scare Brolgas away from airports in order to protect the birds from aircrafts;
  • Grey-headed Flying Fox: issued to scare flying foxes from inappropriate areas where they can cause damage to the environment or property (Flying Foxes were killed in Victoria, the Melbourne Botanical Gardens was one example, this was stopped because of public uproar); and
  • Magpie Goose: issued to scare Magpie Geese that are causing damage to crops.

It also looks like ATCW permits for snake species can be / are for relocation and the * first set of Common Long-necked Tortoise numbers look like an error.

So Australian mammal and bird species are the main victims in the ATCW system, which, given the global race to extinction of many hundreds of thousands of species, should be seen as an anachronism and as such needs to end. There is no excuse for the level of killing, horrific on a global scale.

What can go very badly wrong with the ATCW system is demonstrated by the fate of the Red Kangaroo. In 2017, ATCW permits were issued to, I assume Parks Victoria, to kill 15,187 Red Kangaroos. The Victorian Government population estimate for the Red Kangaroo in 2017, following the Kangaroo survey that year, was just 13,000 animals. So permits issued exceeded the entire state population estimate by 2,187 animals.

The first number in bold is the number of permits issued, the second number in bold is the number of animals to be controlled. Of all the ATCW permits I have seen over the years I have never seen any that were for non-lethal control.

  1. Australian King-parrot Alisterus scapularis – 2/10
  2. Australian Fur Seal Pusillus doriferus – 14 / 303
  3. Australian Kestrel Falco cenchroides – 2/4
  4. Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen – 266 / 4,566
  5. Australian Magpie Lark Grallina cyanoleuca – 63 / 576
  6. Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus – 1 / 10
  7. Australian Raven Corvus coronoides – 1,131 / 32,529
  8. Australian Shelduck Tadorna tadornoides – 161 / 6,764
  9. Australian White Ibis Threskiornis moluccus – 66 / 4,676
  10. Bell Miner Manorina melanophrys – 9 / 670
  11. Black Kite Milvus migrans – 12 / 235
  12. Black Swan Cygnus atratus – 27 / 1,220
  13. Black Wallaby Wallabia bicolor – 1,684 / 20,886
  14. Black-tailed Native-hen Tribonyx ventralis – 10 / 240
  15. Broad-shelled River Turtle Chelodina expansa –1 / 100
  16. Brolga Grus rubicunda – 2 / 51
  17. Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike Coracina novaehollandiae  23 / 275
  18. Brown Goshawk Accipiter fasciatus – 1 / 8
  19. Cape Barren Goose Cereopsis novaehollandiae – 63 / 3,730
  20. Chestnut Teal Anas castanea – 15 / 640
  21. Brushtail Possum Trichosurus vulpecular – 67 / 1,963 – now killed without permits
  22. Common Long-necked Tortoise Chelodina longicollis – 5 / 10,219* and 2 / 57
  23. Ringtail Possum Pseudocheirus peregrinus –21 / 364
  24. Bare-nosed Wombat Vombatus ursinus – 2,756 / 33,327
  25. Crimson Rosella Platycercus elegans – 234 / 8,327
  26. Dingo Canis lupusdingo  - 14 / 134 – baited without permits
  27. Dusky Moorhen Gallinula tenebrosa – 5 / 280
  28. Eastern Banjo Frog Limnodynastes dumerilii – 1 / 10
  29. Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis – 30 / 407
  30. Eastern Grey Kangaroo Macropus giganteus – 23,962 / 1,121,353 (now excludes commercial killing data)
  31. Eastern Rosella Platycercus eximius – 100 / 2197
  32. Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae – 906 / 12,122 
  33. Eurasian Coot Fulica atra – 32 / 1,781
  34. Fairy Martin Petrochelidon ariel – 4 / 334
  35. Rose-breasted Cockatoo (Galah) Eolophus roseicapilla – 556 / 40,249 – permits not required
  36. Gang-gang Cockatoo Callocephalon fimbriatum – 1 / 30
  37. Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo – 43 / 898
  38. Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus – 23 / 244
  39. Grey Teal Anas gracilis – 51 / 4,727
  40. Grey-headed Flying-Fox Pteropus poliocephalus – 45 / 59,903
  41. Hardhead Aythya Australis – 1 / 15
  42. Highland Copperhead Austrelaps ramsayi – 8 / 65
  43. Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae – 25 / 187
  44. Little Corella Cacatua sanguinea – 457 / 47,620
  45. Little Crow Corvus bennetti– 4 / 63
  46. Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris – 46 / 702
  47. Little Pied Cormorant Microcarbo melanoleucos – 43 / 592
  48. Little Raven Corvus mellori – 120 / 3,517
  49. Long-billed Corella Cacatua tenuirostris – 525 / 65,873 – permits not required
  50. Lowland Copperhead Austrelaps superbus – 15 / 396
  51. Mallee Ringneck Barnardius zonarius – 10 / 50
  52. Magpie Goose Anseranas semipalmata – 2 / 1,510
  53. Maned (Wood) Duck Chenonetta jubata – 1,396  / 44,649
  54. Murray Turtle Emydura macquarii – 1 /100
  55. Masked Lapwing (Plover) Vanellus miles – 213 / 3,310
  56. Musk Lorikeet Glossopsitta concinna – 334 / 20,715
  57. Noisy Friarbird Philemon corniculatus – 111 /2,509
  58. Noisy Minor Manorina melanocephala – 126 / 5,516
  59. Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa – 157 / 3,979
  60. Pacific Heron (White-necked) Ardea pacifica – 1 / 2
  61. Pied Currawong Strepera graculina – 288 / 6,916
  62. Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyria – 23 / 370
  63. Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus moluccanus – 223 / 12,480
  64. Red Kangaroo Macropus rufus – 122 / 74,349
  65. Red-bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus – 20 / 226
  66. Red Wattlebird Anthochaera carunculata – 155 / 4,823
  67. Red-necked (Bennett’s) Wallaby Macropus rufogriseus – 246 / 8,660
  68. Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi – 1 / 10
  69. Rufous (Nankeen) Night Heron Nycticorax caledonicus – 8 / 70
  70. Satin Bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus violaceus – 51 / 912
  71. Silver Gull Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae – 212 / 92,863
  72. Silvereye Zosterops lateralis – 171 / 4,391
  73. Straw-necked Ibis Threskiornis spinicollis – 30 / 794
  74. Sulphur Crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita – 709 / 40,084 – permits not required
  75. Tammar Wallaby Macropus eugenii  - 3/30
  76. Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus – 32 / 878
  77. Wedged-tailed Eagle Aquila audax – 5 / 20
  78. Welcome Swallow Hirundo neoxena – 61 / 4,429
  79. Western Brown Snake Pseudonaja nuchalis – 1 / 1
  80. Western Grey Kangaroo Macropus fuliginosus – 869 / 77,674 (excludes commercial killing data)
  81. White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae – 15 / 139
  82. White-winged Chough Corcorax melanorhamphos – 8 / 69
  83. Yellow Rosella Platycercus flaveolus – 1 / 10
  84. Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo Calyptorhynchus funereus – 11 / 649
  85. Yellow-throated Miner Manorina flavigula – 3 / 90

NOTE: Non-lethal ATCWs issued in 2021 not included in the above statistics.

ATCWs in 2021 and 2022

For the first time in 2021 the Victorian Government has provided a split between lethal and non-lethal permits. Just 2.6 per cent of the permits issued were for non-lethal control.

The total numbers of animals reported killed through the ATCW system is lower than it was because of exclusions which include permits not being required, the commercial trade in wildlife is excluded including no published account of the young animals killed (there are very many), killing of Koalas and so on. The split is as follows:

  • Lethal permits issued – 2,573 (includes most of the native animals to be controlled at 89,364 – this number is a long way from telling the complete story); and
  • Non-lethal permits – 69 (that was a total of 2,082 native animals from the general control list plus the scaring of 5,470, Corellas and Cockatoos).

This has meant the language on the reports has changed – before 2021 and for the split between lethal and non-lethal ‘control’ the story was this:

“Lethal control of wildlife is only considered when practical non-lethal methods were unsuccessful at resolving the problem or are impractical to implement”.

In 2021 it had changed to:

“In 2021, no ATCWs were issued for lethal control of any species listed as threatened under Victorian or Commonwealth legislation”.

There is no understanding by the government departments administrating the ATCW permit system as to what actually happens and how many animals are actually killed, it can be less or more than the permit allows and there is no way of telling (the exception is the mass killing of Australian wildlife in State and National Parks in Victoria, for which the government gets reports on the ATCWs it issues to Parks Victoria which gives the actual number of animals killed, but it is near impossible to get this information).

Top 5 species (out of 55 native species) in the firing line in 2021 by number to be controlled by ATCWs permits:

  1. Eastern Grey Kangaroo
  2. Red Kangaroo
  3. Western Grey
  4. Silver Gull
  5. Maned Duck

The Deer conundrum: In Victoria, in what appears to be a consistent pattern, in 2020 the ATCW permits (number of animals targeted) issued for the Eastern Grey Kangaroo (for the Kangaroo, mitigation permits only, excludes commercial) was 102 times more than for the Red Deer, 29 times that of Fallow Deer and 7 times that of Sambar Deer. It is quite remarkable that when it comes to species being targeted by ATCW permits, that native species should take centre stage. Statistics for 2021 repeat that pattern.

ATCWs in 2022

The list of native animals targeted by ATCWs in 2022 was published in April 2023. Here are some key points. Three native species appear to have entered the list for lethal control for the first time, these are the Australasian Gannet, the Banded Lapwing and the Cattle Egret.

I remember only too well the struggle to save the Cape Barren Goose from extinction.

“ATCWs were issued for lethal control of two species (Australasian Gannets and Cape Barren Geese) which are listed marine species under the EPBC Act. The designated conservation status of both species is least concern”. Conservation Regulator, Victorian Government

In total 59 native species appeared on the ATCW list in 2022, of which 7 species were listed as 'controlled' by non-lethal methods only, of which three were reptile species. In total 2,428 permits were issued for the lethal 'control' of 90,301 Australian mammals and birds covering 52 native species.

Permits issued for non-lethal 'control' totalled 115, covering 36 species and 29,261 animals, the majority of which were for scaring off birds. There were 4,665 Grey-headed Flying-foxes on the non-lethal list, harassing these animals does have fatal results.

Australian mammals come off very badly as nearly all mammals 'controlled' in 2022 were by lethal methods. Kangaroos head the list of targeted species even though there is now over-exploitation of these animals for commercial purposes not accounted for here.

Of all permits issued in 2022, 4.5 per cent were for non-lethal control compared to 2.6 per cent in 2021.

History

In 2017 / 2018/ 2019 I asked the Victorian Government a series of questions about the use of ATCWs in the state, which they answered.

  • In the listing of ATCWs 2009-2017 what is the split between lethal and non-lethal methods over this period? - my research indicates that the department is against moving wildlife, preferring it to be destroyed. DELWP is unable to provide the split between authorisations for lethal and non-lethal control as our current permit database does not have the function to be able to produce a report on this. A new database is being developed which will address this limitation.
  • How many ATCW applications have been rejected? Our current permit database does not have the function to able to produce a report on this. A new database is currently being developed which will address this limitation.
  • What species are off the list in terms of not requiring an ATCW to destroy them? Under section 7A of the Wildlife Act, the Minister can recommend to the Governor in Council to declare a species of wildlife unprotected in a specified area. Whilst this means that the unprotected species of wildlife may be controlled without an ATCW, it does not mean that control is not regulated. The unprotection order will specify the period and area to which the Order applies, in what circumstances the species is unprotected, and the conditions that must be met, such as who may control the species and the methods they may use. There are currently unprotection orders in place for Brushtail Possums living in buildings and municipal parks, Dingos on or within a certain distance from private land for the protection of livestock, and Long-billed Corellas, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Galahs causing damage to property.
  • Why has the annual rate of native animals subject to ATCWs risen so sharply? Wildlife population numbers fluctuate as availability of food and water changes in response to variations in temperature and rainfall. This means that the number of ATCWs sought by landholders also fluctuates year by year. For example, if there are dry conditions then landholders are more likely to seek an ATCW to reduce the competition between wildlife and their stock for feed.
  • In Victoria has any of the funding allocated from the Government's January 2020 $17.5 million wildlife and biodiversity rescue package been used for lethal control of pest species, including use of aerial drops of 1080? (note Kangaroo meat is used extensively in Australia as a substrate for aerial and other baiting – the use of 1080 poison in aerial drops is banned in most countries around the world because of cruelty reasons and its indiscriminate impact on numerous species). The substrate for aerially deployed 1080 baits in Victoria does not contain kangaroo. All aerial bait lines and bait drops are mapped with tree canopy cover considered in developing bait lines. Bait drops are deployed accurately using aircraft navigation, specialised equipment and GPS technology based on heights and airspeed according to environmental conditions. Bait lodgement in the canopy of trees is not a concern. The impact of pest animals in fire-impacted areas can greatly affect the survival of native plants and animals and the recovery of threatened species and their habitat. Intensified and sustained control of pest animals has been funded as a priority immediate action under the Biodiversity Bushfire Relief and Early Recovery (BBRER) program.  A range of integrated control techniques will be used, including aerial and ground shooting, trapping and ground baiting. Baits used as part of the ground baiting will be buried at an appropriate depth to reduce the risk of non-target impact. No aerial baiting will be funded under the BBRER program. The use of alternatives to 1080 baits, such as PAPP (para-aminopropiophenne) based products, will be trialled in BBRER funded projects. PAPP is a humane, fast-acting toxin.

NOTE: 1080 baits are and have been used extensively in Victoria and other programs continue.

NOTE: Far from the transparency the Victorian Government pretends, I have had great difficulty in extracting information about the government’s own wildlife killing activities relating to Australian wildlife on public lands including state and national parks (particularly at the time of the fires). After initially refusing to provide the information, the request has been subject to a series of FOI requests and more recently Questions on Notice in the Victorian Parliament.

  • What lethal control activities involving native wildlife were undertaken by the Government during the period of October 2019 to February 2020, and is data available on the species and quantities controlled? Records held by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) show that during the period in question, eight Authorities to Control Wildlife (ATCWs) were issued to government agencies for the lethal control of a range of native wildlife species on public land. ATCWs include strict conditions to ensure wildlife are controlled humanely. ATCWs issued during this period may not have been acted on immediately, as they are typically issued for one year. Records of the species and numbers actually controlled during that period will generally be held by the agency that is responsible for undertaking the wildlife control.  

Floods in Victoria: Use of ATCWs

I asked the Victorian Government’s Conservation Regulator, who is responsible for the ATCW system in Victoria, what occurred during the terrible floods in Victoria in late 2022 and early 2023 and if ATCWs were part of the response to the flooding. We were on the New South Wales side of the floods during that period and it was yet another bad time for the nature of Australia.

"During this extended event, DEECA’s (was DELWP) wildlife emergency response focused on addressing critical animal welfare issues through the provision of food to wildlife isolated by flood waters and humane euthanasia of animals assessed to be suffering.  As you can appreciate due to both access issues and the types of wildlife involved, relocation and traditional rehabilitation approaches were not generally feasible.
Approximately 2,000 Kangaroos are believed to have died or were humanely euthanised at Beveridge Island as a result of the flooding.  In addition, an Authority To Control Wildlife (ATCW) was issued to support the ongoing flood response along the Murray River system.  Under this ATCW, 1185 Western Grey Kangaroos; 387 Red Kangaroos; 59 Eastern Grey Kangaroos; 4 Black Wallabies and 51 Emus were humanely euthanised based on assessment protocols developed in consultation with experienced wildlife vets.
The ATCWs issued to the DEECA Incident Controller will be included in the 2022 ATCW Report.  This will include the maximum number authorised for control.
It is expected that annual data for ATCWs and the Kangaroo Harvest Program (for 2022) will be publicly available from April 2023. 
I also wish to assure you that no ATCWs have been issued for the lethal control of Koalas in 2023.  Authorisations have been issued to land managers to undertake health assessments and fertility control at a number of locations where there is risk of overpopulation or other health issues negatively impacting animal welfare.  These health assessments are undertaken in by experienced wildlife vets who may euthanise animals which are suffering and unlikely to be able to be rehabilitated for release back to the wild".