Life on land
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Life on land
The material is from our archive and is useful in as much as it demonstrates the twists and turns in conduct in relation to the treatment of wildlife in Victoria from events at the time they were written. Governments would like you to forget the histories here, so we will continue to document and publish these reflections for your reference.
Gerald Durrell on the Mallee and its fowl – 1966
“… rabbits and sheep that invade the Mallee and eat the seeds and plants that the bird lives on, and, by feeding both indiscriminately and voraciously, change the whole ecology of the Mallee scrub.
When this happens the birds can no longer find food and so they have to move away (if there is anywhere to move to) or else die of starvation. Recently too, there has been another threat to the bird in the shape of agriculture. At one time the Mallee scrub was inviolate, for the soil was considered too poor for crops, but now, with the discovery of a new chemical, it has been found that the Mallee country can support crops of wheat.
This means that vast areas of Mallee scrub which up to now have provided a sanctuary for the Mallee-Fowl, will be felled and planted and the birds will disappear. You cannot of course halt progress, but is it necessary to destroy everything in your path to achieve it?".
I have a particular compassion for the wild Australian animals of the Mallee as the history of extermination is dire and extreme and one of the worst examples I know of. In this matter I think of Arthur Queripel, the founder of the Australian Wildlife Protection Council (1969).
Arthur remembers seeing:
“Smouldering piles of Mallee scrub and mounds of dead Kangaroos and Emus following the round-ups after clearing”.
He witnessed mutilated Kangaroos on trucks as the commercial skin and meat trade got underway and saw too much casual cruelty. He sought help from the police, conservation and animal welfare organisations to no avail, with each passing the responsibility to the other.
In yet another invasive and thoughtless cruelty:
“Our bi-annual kangaroo population surveys start across Victoria from Tuesday 6 October 2020. The survey is done from the air, so helicopters will be flying low to the ground at slow speeds in and around housing and farmland. Safety is our number one priority. The surveys are all part of our work to help us understand Victoria’s Kangaroo populations and the impact of events such as the 2019/20 bushfires on Kangaroo numbers”. DELWP Mallee, Facebook 2020
So in the Mallee nothing has changed in all that time.
As the most destructive fires ever known in Victoria were burning wildlife was still being killed with the use of permits and for commercial gain. A few months on and more terrible news.
“The Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan 2021 to 2023 is now recognised under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act1999 as a Developmental Wildlife Trade Operation. This allows the international export of Kangaroo products from this program”.
On Christmas Eve 2020 we started to receive messages that the Victorian Government had emailed Kangaroo shooters and those engaged in the commercial trade in wildlife informing them of the following changes in their ability to trade commercially in Australian wildlife (prior to any public announcement of the changes and prior to the release of Kangaroo survey data, nor did they inform any wildlife protection organisations or carers):
Needless to say this sent a wave of fear and anxiety, emotions already high, across the many residents in regional Victoria who care for their wildlife, run wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres and have wildlife properties. And that translated into a nightmare for us because of the level of concern being direct at us, so our Christmas period was turned on its head in the awful and terrible nature of what was going on.
The timing of this, even if it was predictable given the prejudicial standards I describe so often, was immensely cruel.
Since that time the Victorian Government has not responded to any questions on the matter, this suggests there was some ‘freelancing of information to mates’ prior to any formal government announcements.
The standards of governance and duty of care relating to this matter are among the most egregious I have seen and full of contempt for those who care about wildlife, particularly so, those individuals living in regional areas who will find themselves in the frontline of the slaughter.
“So when Australian species have made that journey to the brink, many have gone over the edge, they become endangered, and then perhaps, if they are lucky, some attention and belated compassion is directed towards them. By then it is really too late”. Peter Hylands 2020
The Commercial trade in Kangaroos was banned by the Victorian Government after a trial in the early 1980s. These were the species on the commercial list at that time:
For all species combined, the quota in 1982 was 33,000 animals.
“In early March 2020 I was working in the desert country to the west of Alice Springs, a remote place where I often stay. Coming in to see our friends in Hermannsburg I rang the Victorian ecodev number 136 186 to enquire how the latest Kangaroo harvest quotas had been calculated for each Victorian region. I was put through to a staff member in Ballarat and initially told there had been surveys in both 2019 and 2020. I knew this to be incorrect so when I queried the response, I was given a lecture about how terrible these animals are and told that people (like me) living in cities do not understand the issues. Given that I have owned two significant rural properties, one in Central Victoria over many decades and another near the Endeavour River in Far North Queensland and I spend time working in the remotest places in Australia and I know a lot about numbers, these claims seemed pretty outrageous”. Peter Hylands
Remnant Kangaroo populations in Victoria are more commonly being trapped by urban developments as urban populations grow. Among the spin from the Victorian Government are the excuses that Kangaroos cannot be relocated because they will not survive the move, relocated populations will disperse, they are diseased and should be killed, moving them is too costly and there is nowhere for them to be relocated, and on it goes.
What I can tell you from long experience is that this government will do all it can to impede the relocation of these poor animals. The preferred method is to shoot them and get rid of the ‘problem’ as quickly as possible. The problem is also that the general public, particularly children, do not want the slaughter of these animals.
So the process now is delay, pushing more and more costs to developers (most moves could be achieved quickly for a few thousand dollars, with all of the animals having a very high chance of survival) and this escalation of cost and delay puts developers off doing the ‘right thing’.
Another process is the sidelining of experienced individuals with sensible relocation plans by the government which hands over the responsibility of the relocation to its consultants. This process is particularly troubling and is highly questionable. All this drags on for month after month and of course the animals suffer along with the developer.
The aim of all of it is to be able to continue to claim the falsehood that these animals cannot be relocated by ensuring failure. This process is occurring because, given the vast numbers of Kangaroos being killed for commercial and non-commercial purposes and the intensely cruel treatment of these animals (linked with the demeaning government propaganda that facilitates this process), it would look rather odd if they actually allowed the people who knew what they were doing, to rescue the stranded Kangaroos.
The idea that these animals belong to a particular government department, who’s main interest is in killing Kangaroos, needs to be questioned. It is unacceptable at every level.
“The claims from both politicians and public servants in Victoria that the Kangaroo Pet Food Trial would not increase the rate of Kangaroo killing, and then, once the trial had commenced, claims that significant increases in the killing rate (for example an increase of the killing rate for the Red Kangaroo of 759 times over the 2011 control total) was due to favourable climatic conditions, and hence conditions for breeding resulting in population increases, are simply untrue.
This becomes entirely obvious once the increases in kill rates are analysed by region. The very significant increases in kill rates which occurred in the Kangaroo Pet Food Trial zones was obvious. This is simply disgraceful, particularly given the rates of killing from the period the trial commenced, that it is most probable that populations had started to decline rapidly during 2016”. Peter Hylands 2018
“In its extensive and recent Kangaroo surveys the Victorian Government were able to count 23 Red Kangaroos and 2,607 Grey Kangaroos( both Eastern and Western Greys) in 2017 and in a much more extensive survey in 2018 they counted 91 Red Kangaroos and 4,707 Grey Kangaroos (again this figure includes both Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroos). We should also not forget that the Victorian Government is spending a great deal of tax payers’ money establishing and ‘managing’ this commercial trade in Australia’s wildlife as well as its disastrous persecution of birdlife on Victoria’s dwindling wetlands. There needs to be proper accountability within government for the various scandals that have emerged in the last few years”. Peter Hylands 2019
An update of the code, which is a document intended to lead international customers of this trade in wildlife to believe the commercial trade in Kangaroos is humane and sustainable, neither is true, was published in late 2020.
Concerned organisations were asked to make a submission to AgriFutures Australia in relation to the commercial killing of Kangaroos. AgriFutures Australia -formerly known as Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) is primarily funded by an annual Australian Government appropriation.
Our submission, with inputs from our team, taking several days to complete, was ignored. Not only was the submission never acknowledged, we were not even informed of the codes publication. The conduct of AgriFutures Australia is found to be highly prejudicial in this matter. The outcomes in the recent document describe this perfectly.
The most recent Victorian Government conditions of authorisation for the commercial killing of Kangaroos that we know of state:
“Kangaroos with obvious dependent young must not be shot”.
This now contradicts the national advice and will no doubt be changed, further diluting the limits to the slaughter. What I can tell you, and there is a vast amount of evidence, is that female Kangaroos in Victoria are targeted regardless of young, and more so, once the male populations in a particular place are exterminated.
In the matter of the future for and guardianship of Kangaroo species, the combination of behaviours from both the Commonwealth Government and the Victorian State Government, makes the future for Kangaroos look very bleak indeed.
I asked Charlie Vincent, then Councillor, Alpine Shire, to give me her thoughts on the national ‘code’ update. Here is Charlie’s analysis:
“Late in 2020 the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos for Commercial Purposes was updated from the previous 2008 version. When comparing these codes, I discovered the most staggering omission in the latest 2020 version. The 2008 code explicitly states when outlining target animals:
Shooters should avoid shooting female Kangaroos and Wallabies where it is obvious they have dependent young except in special circumstances (the female Kangaroo or Wallaby is sick or injured or needs to be killed for management and/or ecological reasons).
Nowhere in all 55 pages of the revised 2020 code is this stated. Meaning, the code, now fails to state that shooters should avoid shooting female Kangaroos”.
This is of grave concern. When an industry built on the premise that population management of Kangaroos is necessary to maintain species sustainability, why would the National Code remove the one statement which provides some safe guarding for the survival of future generations of Kangaroos?
With recent statistics across commercial shooting zones showing increasing percentages of females being killed, one is left to conclude that male targets are now so much harder to find.
On inspection of Victorian Government data under FOI we discovered this note attached to the tables as a footnote:
“NOTE: that the Western Grey Kangaroo figures is considered highly inflated, as the reporting tool only allows 'harvesters' to identify Western Greys which is creating user error – enhancements to the reporting tool will be implemented in 2020”.
This NOTE is startling for two reason – the Kangaroo Pet Food Trial and full commercial market combined, have now been operating for 6 years (at 2020), and DELWP are still not able to know what species are being killed.
Secondly this makes a nonsense of the Kangaroo surveys in Victoria and the population numbers these expensive (to the public purse) activities generate.
“My list of concerns include people living in regional Australia who witness and are often harassed by the (wildlife) killing activities conducted by governments and industry. Because of state based legislation, there are almost no avenues for residents to complain about these horrendous acts occurring on their doorstep. We have heard many such stories from individuals whose houses and children have been hit by shot from hunting activities and from those witnessing the butchering of Kangaroos from their properties. These are the animals that they have come to love and are likely to know well. There is a great deal of anxiety and fear among many, for their families and the animals they have come to love, this horrible situation has now been extended to new regions including the State of Victoria (significantly impacted by fire)". Peter Hylands, March 2020
“Kangaroo skins are used for stuffed toys, shoes and other leather goods. Bizarre products for tourists include stuffed and mounted Kangaroo heads, Kangaroo paw beer bottle openers and Kangaroo scrotum purses”.
Prior to the 1980s the Victorian Government allowed Kangaroos to be killed under permit when they presented a problem to farmers. The unwritten policy was that farmers would only kill Kangaroos if they genuinely presented a problem.
Statistics from the Department of Conservation and Environment (at that time) showed that under this system only about 5,000 animals were killed each year.
In 1979 the Minister for Conservation in Victoria was successfully lobbied to allow the commercial killing of Kangaroos. Within two years of opening this trade in wildlife which allow the commercial killing of Kangaroos in Victoria, the number killed rose to 34,000 (in one year).
At that time the CSIRO conducted a population survey of Kangaroos in the state finding that there were around 100,000 Kangaroos in Victoria. What was likely to be occurring in Victoria at that time was that Kangaroo skins and carcasses from Victoria were being sent interstate to South Australia and New South Wales for processing.
My view as a significant property owner in regional Victoria since the 1970s was this activity was conducted out of sight.
Given these findings, a joint ACF / AWPC deputation to the new Minister, Evan Walker, a sensible Labor voice at that time, resulted in a quick end to commercial Kangaroo killing in Victoria. The Victorian case shows that once Kangaroos are killed for profit, it is the market that dictates how many Kangaroos are killed and this has nothing to do with damage mitigation or conservation of landscapes, as now falsely claimed by Labor politicians and their public servants.
The state government at the time, then gave a commitment that commercial killing of Kangaroos would never again be allowed in Victoria.
Ideology driven Kangaroo killing took off again in Victoria in the late 1980s when large numbers of animals were killed in National and State Parks, including the Hattah Kulkyne National Park. On our last visit to this park in 2023 we did not see any Kangaroos and were told by the rangers that if we wanted to see Kangaroos we should go to the nearby airport.
Even by the toxic Victorian standards of nature conservancy this was shocking.