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The reluctant ark

Life on land

"96 per cent of all mammal life is now either human or domesticated animals, just 4 per cent is wildlife. 70 per cent of all birdlife is now domesticated and in farms or factories”.


June 25, 2023

During the last few years there has been a growing awareness among people of the importance of preserving wildlife and its habitat.

For a lot of species – the number, in fact, fills two fat volumes – this concern has come too late. In a great number of other cases there are species whose population has been cut down to such an extent that only a herculean effort can possibly save them. 

Firstly, what does conservation mean? It is not merely the saving from extinction of such species as the Notornis, the Leadbeaters Possum or the Leathery Turtle; this is important work but only part of the problem. You cannot begin to preserve a species of animal unless you preserve the habitat in which it dwells. 

Disturb or destroy that habitat and you will exterminate the species as surely as if you had shot it. So conservation means that you have to preserve forests and grasslands, rivers and lakes, even the sea itself. This is not only vital for the preservation of animal life generally, but for the future existence of humans, a point that seems to escape many people.

Gerald Durrell, Two in the bush, 1962

Evolution; Selected letters of Charles Darwin

There were Ceratopsians even larger than Triceratops, but the hey-day of dinosaurian expansion and growth was passing and the closing stages of the Cretaceous period in America, as elsewhere, came in a world where the reptilian dominance was greatly diminished and soon to be lost.

W E Swinton, 1954

Sir David Attenborough on Charles Darwin

On one subject, about which we might have expected a great deal more comment, he remains almost silent.

The year after the publication of Origin, the first fossil skeleton of Archaeopteryx was discovered in Bavaria. It combined the characteristics of reptiles and birds and was purchased by the Natural History Museum in London.

A supporter of Darwin’s, the palaeontologist Hugh Falconer, writes excitedly to tell Darwin about it, for this is exactly the link between great groups of the animal kingdom that readers of Origin might have hoped to find in support of Darwin’s theory.

But Darwin himself makes little comment.

Richard Owen, the Director of the Museum who first described the fossil, is a virulent anti-evolutionist and harbours a deep personal enmity for Darwin.

Perhaps it is that that prevents the gentle Darwin from indulging in any triumphalism.

The nature of Australia

Looking out through the French doors that ran along the living room walls and onto the long verandah that surrounded the old colonial gold rush house that was so central to our wildlife property in Victoria, I can remember the first time I saw the joeys playing on the gently sloping lawn below the house.

That was success, to get the Kangaroos back and give them the safety they needed to live their lives and develop a mob. It had taken many years to get to this point as Kangaroos were scarce in Central Victoria following the carnage of decades of shooting at every Kangaroo that hopped by, as was the habit back then.

Killing these beautiful animals for commercial purposes was finally banned, by the Victorian Government in 1982, amid of course, the usual scandals and dishonesty that surrounds these things.

I had done the usual Friday afternoon trip from Sydney and then driven up from Melbourne Airport to the property 100 or so kilometers to the north-west of Melbourne.

On many such occasions I was accompanied by an international visitor, a colleague or a friend, from some distant land, which of course was totally devoid of Kangaroos.

The powerful sun was low in the dusty red sky and there, the young animals played in the evening light, their mothers’ ever vigilant. We watched enthralled as they literally skipped for joy at being out of the pouch. What a beautiful thing it was and the endless visitors to the house were equally as enthralled by it all as we were.

Peter Hylands

An unnatural history

The heinous and grotesque cruelty towards Kangaroos is back with a vengeance, as it is for many species in Australia, our wildlife property also destroyed by prejudice and ignorance by governments that should have known better.

So we are no longer able to defend our mob with our direct presence in that place we lived in for all those long years. We can however speak for these voiceless animals as we do around the world.

In 2019 we now have recommendations from the New South Wales Government, amid claims of exploding populations, that Kangaroos should be turned into compost, and an equally disturbing idea that Kangaroos should become carbon credits, this time from the Australian National University.

States of decay and confusion

In the same way that it was not difficult to analyse what would happen if the UK voted to leave the EU, (Creative cowboy films won a European Award for this work), it is not difficult to analyse, in broad terms at least (because some of the base numbers are questionable), what is occurring in relation to greenhouse emissions in Australia.

As the UK has lost trust and credibility internationally (and I have mostly observed these attitudes from Japan), Australia also lacks international credibility in relation to its energy and climate change policies, which have created a mess in Australia. A mess that will cost the environment, households and industry (as well as blocking out new business opportunities) a great deal.

Crimes against nature: Victoria Kangaroo pet food trial (2014)

Remember that the carnage I describe here is just for Victoria and many Kangaroos will be killed without documentation so they will be additional to the numbers cited below. The propaganda against these gentle animals, so keenly promoted by governments in Australia, continues to encourage the most gross acts of cruelty towards Kangaroo species.

To set the record straight, regarding so called exploding Kangaroo populations in Victoria, for three days in mid-March 2019 we travelled from Melbourne, main roads and back roads, through farmland and forest in a large loop and through what is meant to be one of Victoria’s Kangaroo hotspots (Central Victoria and what is now the central shooting zone) to the Murray River and back.

One dead Kangaroo near Gisborne, one dead Wallaby just before Kerang (surprising as we had never seen Macropods there before, dead or living).

The result, no living Kangaroos at all and we are very good at finding these animals.

Looking back

From the numbers I have for Victoria it looks as if around 750,000 Kangaroos were killed by permits from the Victorian Government, ATCW / KPFT permits in the years 2014 – 2018.

The number of Kangaroos authorised to be killed roughly doubled once the pet food trial really got underway (the increase is now fivefold) despite government statements that there would be no increase in killing rates once the trial commenced. 390,886 of these animals were authorised under KPFT of which around 212,000 were actually processed.

There was a marked step change in the killing rates of all species in 2013, the number again increased significantly in 2014, the year the Victorian Labor Party won government in the state.

Comparing the years 2009 – 2013 and 2014 – 2018, in the latter five-year period the number of Red Kangaroos killed was 8.42 greater than in the previous five-year period.

For Eastern Grey Kangaroos it was 2.72 times more and for Western Grey Kangaroos it was 3.6 times greater – populations of all three species are being devastated by the killing rates.

Most of the other remaining Macropod species in Victoria are also subject to ATCWs.

In 2000 the Victorian Government estimated that the population of Red Kangaroos in Victoria hovered around 6,000.

Kangaroos in the media

Whereas some cartoonists were content to parade the Kangaroo as an amiable participant in the daily round, others seized the opportunity to use the animal as a surrogate to sharpen perception of political issues facing Australians. The political Kangaroo was most actively nurtured in the Bulletin office, when the spirited new patriot was promoted to equality with the Lion.
By the early twentieth century, cartoonists with the leading weeklies were matching the Kangaroo with two associates from the international scene, the traditional British Lion, a friend to be watched, and the American Eagle, a friend to be encouraged.

R M Younger, 1988

Killing Koalas: Looking back to 2019

The killing forests: Victorian response plan for wildlife impacted by fire

What follows are two extracts from the Victorian Government's response plan regarding the treatment of wildlife caught in bushfires.

Despite assurances that the rescue of young animals would not be blocked by the environment department (their instruction is that rescue is not supported) it appears, and they are secretive about what is going on, that very few animals had been rescued from the Victorian bushfires and during those catastrophic months of suffering and as the world donated tens of millions of dollars for their rescue and rehabilitation.

“Rehabilitation of orphaned milk-dependent pouch young of common species such as macropods and koalas is not supported as these animals require significant long-term care and cannot be successfully returned to the wild”.
“The most common species that may be seen in the Victorian fire context are Koalas, Brushtail and Ringtail possums, Echidnas, and joeys of large kangaroo species (Eastern, Western Grey Kangaroos). Small macropods, adult Wombats and reptiles are less frequently seen. Conservation and population status of affected wildlife needs to be understood as these may also impact decision making about triage. For example, an over abundant population with established health issues may require a closer consideration for euthanasia of compromised animals over treatment”.

Smoke and mirrors

One of a series of questions from Peter Hylands to the Victorian Government: 

On the matter of abundance I note that your fire ground guide in relation to wildlife rescue says:

"Rehabilitation of orphaned milk dependent young for common species such as Macropods and Koalas is not supported".

Given that both Macropods (7 species are now extinct in Victoria with more on the brink) and Koalas (down to a fraction of one per cent of their Australian population 200 years ago), who has and why are these species described as common? I note this issue of abundance arises in the recent efforts to stop wildlife carers in Victoria rescuing certain species. I challenge the descriptions of abundance here, given the very significant decline in species, both in number and distribution of a significant range of species in Victoria.

The Victorian Government’s response to this question (in an earlier section of responses the environment department goes on to claim the Koalas are overabundant). International condemnation of this nonsense causes a change of messaging but the underlying propaganda remains the same: 

"DELWP does not have a plan to restrict the rehabilitation of overabundant species. Restricting rehabilitation of overabundant species is outside the scope of the ATCW review and not under consideration".

Now with a new spin tossed out to the media, nothing actually changes, and the Victorian Government continues to block most rescues, reaching a climax in the catastrophic fires of the summer of 2019-2020.

The bizarre attitudes and behaviours that dominate the treatment of wildlife that are so evident in government departments needs to be properly understood.

How did Australia get to this place?

The term overabundant is laughable, is intensely cruel, dishonest and particularly disgraceful.

These matters are shocking indeed.