The wood from the trees
Life on land
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Life on land
This is a story about two states in Australia, Victoria and South Australia. Here, like most other places across the continent, nature counts for very little. So with the great fires of 2020 done for now, and COVID-19 lockdowns done for now, we look at what has happened to wildlife in these two states during what has been a catastrophic time and what the individuals trusted to respond to these catastrophes actually did and said at that time. All of it is shocking beyond any understanding.
First, we go back half a century and to Jersey.
"On the bookshelves that line my office there are two squat, fat red books that glower at me continuously. They are the first things that catch my eye in the morning and the last things that catch my eye as I close the office door at night. They act as a constant reminder. These are the Red Data Books produced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. One deals with mammals and the other with birds, and they list the mammals and birds in the world today that are faced with extinction. – in most cases directly or indirectly through the interference of mankind. As yet there are only two volumes, but there are more to come, and they will make a depressing line when they eventually arrive, for there is a further one on reptiles and amphibians, another on fishes, and yet another on trees and plants and shrubs".
What Gerald Durrell found depressing all those years ago was a portent of what was to come. Today we are in an entirely different paradigm, what was depressing to us all 50 or more years ago, is a great catastrophe today. How did this happen to our world?
In this story are some of the answers and some of the attitudes that show us why we are where we are, and that is in a very dangerous place.
I will say this simple thing, all wildlife in Australia is in crisis because of the severe impacts of climate change being experienced across the Australian continent, the situation will continue to deteriorate for a long time to come.
The conduct towards Australia’s wildlife, which can be described as terrible, and that conduct did not change, despite the catastrophic fires, lockdown and the danger posed by COVID-19.
The story for the State of South Australia and biodiversity is bleak. There are other stories on this website that describe the situation in South Australia, particularly in relation to Kangaroos and Wallabies. These stories are carefully researched by the Creative cowboy films team, part of these investigations include visiting numerous locations across the state to look at what is happening. Eyes and ears don’t lie.
There are numerous issues but here are just two. I asked the South Australian Government to answer a series of questions on birdlife and Kangaroos and Wallabies.
Q - Peter Hylands: Given the COVID-19 pandemic, how does the South Australian Government justify travel to SA regions by duck shooters from SA - some would be travelling from Adelaide and other major centres, using regional shops and so on - to regions with vulnerable populations?
A - SA Department for Environment and Water: The 2020 South Australian duck open season currently remains open to hunters from South Australia, subject to current social distancing and non-essential travel recommendations.
Q - Peter Hylands: How does the South Australian Government justify holding a season in 2020 given the environmental conditions of the latest period, the catastrophic wildfires and the very significant decline in waterbird numbers across all species?
A - SA Department for Environment and Water: Following an assessment of climate data and forecasts, landscape and wetland condition, waterfowl abundance, and also considering whether hunting activities could impact on the conservation and sustainability of waterfowl populations, a restricted duck hunting open season has been declared for 2020.
No quail hunting open season has been declared for 2020. The information used in this assessment was derived from the Bureau of Meteorology, DEW wetland and waterfowl surveys, the Eastern Australia Waterbird Survey and various remotely sensed landscape condition data. The opening of a 2020 duck hunting season is based on 2019 data and forecasts for 2020. Should conditions deteriorate or circumstances change, the Minister may revoke or revise the open season declarations.
Q - Peter Hylands: How does the South Australian Government justify the mass killing of birdlife on Ramsar sites and how does this impact, not only the Ramsar agreements but also JAMBA, CAMBA and ROKAMBA etc?
A - SA Department for Environment and Water: The Ramsar convention includes provisions for ‘wise use’ of wetlands, which are not incompatible with sustainable use of wildlife. Duck species permitted for hunting during open season are not listed on JAMBA, CAMBA or ROKAMBA agreements.
Q - Peter Hylands: Given the COVID-19 outbreak and restrictions, is the current duck shooting season being monitored (cruelty, compliance, bag limits etc) by officials from the SA Government in locations where shooting occurs?
A - SA Department for Environment and Water: DEW rangers are continuing patrols throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, including patrols related to the 2020 duck open season.
Q - Peter Hylands: Given the serious nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, how does the South Australian Government justify the continuing trade in wildlife (one of the largest in the world for this group of species) which requires travel across regions in South Australia?
A - SA Department for Environment and Water: Agricultural industries, which includes the commercial Kangaroo industry, and related businesses across the food chain are considered an essential service and may operate as normal with consideration of social distancing and other restrictions.
Q - Peter Hylands: Given what we understand about the transmission of new viruses and the huge risks to human health from the trade in wildlife, how does the South Australian Government justify the expansion (prey switching) to new species, given the significant health risks to both humans and other species? NOTE there is plenty of evidence in relation to these matters regarding the commercial trade in Macropods and related species.
A - SA Department for Environment and Water: Kangaroos and their products do not pose a threat to human health through viral infections. The risk of a macropod virus transitioning to a human is considered negligible.
Footnote from Peter Hylands - Birdlife: You can draw your own conclusions from the South Australian Government’s answers, the reality however is this:
“The waterbird population has fallen as much as 90 per cent in Australia's east, shows 37 year study” ABC 19 November 2019
Given the dire conditions in South Australia there is no reason why the circumstances for birdlife should be any different from that in Victoria or New South Wales. If you visit the Coorong and its adjoining Ramsar Wetlands you will see signs proclaiming the significance of Australia’s international bird agreements, it is disingenuous to pretend that birdlife impacted by duck shooting activities does not include migratory bird species, who are in the mix of birds being shot at on these Ramsar sites.
Footnote from Peter Hylands – Kangaroos and Wallabies: On this website there are detailed stories regarding the treatment of Kangaroos and Wallabies and the various disinformation spread around by governments and the media, including exaggerated population numbers for these very beautiful animals, which are so representative of Australia. It is disingenuous to pretend that the risk of disease from the trade of wildlife does not extent to Kangaroos and Wallabies. The conditions and time in which these animals are stored in chiller boxes in the wild (sometimes with other species like wild pigs, goats and deer), transported and butchered are far from healthy.
I suggest that you ask your local politicians if the Department of Agriculture-Food Division tests raw Kangaroo meat for food-borne pathogens such as Toxoplasma gondi or Salmonella spp., both which are zoonotic agents present in Kangaroos, and is that testing a requirement of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code? Discounting the health risk to zero, which is what this government is doing, particularly under current circumstances, is a very long way from sensible.
The story for the State of Victoria and biodiversity is bleak. There are many stories on this website that describe the situation in Victoria in great detail, carefully researched by the Creative cowboy films team, part of these investigations include visiting numerous locations across the state to look at what is happening.
Again eyes and ears don’t lie.
I have asked the government in Victoria a series of questions, many have not been answered, but some have, and the answers include a summary of the number of native animals rescued from public lands, including state and national parks, during the horrific fires in which hundreds of millions of animals died.
Among the questions that have not been answered are those that relate to the numbers and species of wildlife killed by Parks Victoria on public land, mainly state and national parks, while the fires raged. Part of the response from this government organisation was:
“If you require any more detailed information at this stage, we encourage you to submit your query through our Freedom of Information Process (FOIs). You can find more information on the process....”.
This is entirely contrary to the guidelines from the state government that communications regarding the environment should, and I quote:
“The public and the media should receive accurate and timely information in order to maintain good public relations and prevent people from attempting to obtain the information from other sources”.
Our team was contacted, after issuing our FOI requests to this government organisation, and the organisation went on to claim (by phone) it did not know where its state and national parks were in relation to the permits to kill wildlife they had been issuing, probably in very large numbers. So the extraction of this information continues and was eventually successful. The numbers of native animals being killed (culled) in national parks during the period when the fires were raging were utterly staggering. This is a story for another time.
The answer regarding the number of animals rescued on public lands from DELWP (likely to be most of them), from mostly state and national parks in Victoria (privately funded and conducted rescue efforts for these places were blocked by the Victorian Government) are as follows (I place a caveat on these numbers in that what I have received is difficult to interpret clearly, but what I present here will be very close to what occurred, remember many millions of native birds, mammals and reptiles died in these places).
SITE ONE The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape (has recently been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List recognised solely for its Aboriginal cultural values). The property enjoys legal protection at the highest national level according to the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999.
Number of animals assessed over three day period was 171, number of these euthanised 93, including 38 out of 38 Wallabies counted and 39 of 47 Kangaroos counted. Number of Koalas assessed 77, number of Koalas euthanised 13. These numbers are very telling given the numbers of Wallabies and Kangaroos killed. These animals are much more likely to escape fires than Koalas.
Total number of animals rescued at Budj Bim likely to be 78.
SITE TWO Bairnsdale 608 animals assessed, 34 euthanised, 135 animals rescued, 127 of which were Koalas. Period from 6 January 2020 to 25 February 2020.
Total number of animals rescued Bairnsdale region public lands likely to be 135.
SITE THREE Orbost 556 animals assessed, 23 euthanised, 13 animals rescued, 13 of which were Koalas. Period from 13 January 2020 to 22 February 2020.
Total number of animals rescued from Orbost region public lands likely to be 13.
SITE FOUR Mallacoota 307 animals assessed, 185 euthanised, of which 181 were Kangaroos and Wallabies, rescued and triaged 122, 53 of which were Koalas. Those triaged, 42 were released, 44 were euthanised, 17 transferred to Zoos Victoria (16 of which were Koalas) and 11 were transferred to a carer, of the initial number triaged, 8 died in care after rescue.
Period from 6 January 2020 to 6 February 2020. The majority of the killing occurring in the first two weeks.
Total number of animals rescued from Mallacoota region public lands likely to be 122 of which at least 52 died.
SITE FIVE Hume 445 animals assessed, 7 euthanised, 2 animals rescued. Period unknown.
Total number of animals rescued from Hume region public lands likely to be 2.
From the data provided by the Victorian Government at the time, 350 native animals were rescued, of which 257 (74 per cent) were Koalas. Of the 342 animals euthanised 293 (86 per cent) were Kangaroos and Wallabies.
Despite the carnage of the fires and the drastic decline in birdlife more generally the Victorian Government called both a full Quail shooting season and a modified duck shooting season, these terrible events, which last for many weeks each year, are a major slaughter of birdlife (numbering in the hundreds of thousands of birds each year).
Despite the fires and the terrible climate conditions, the staggering loss of biodiversity in the state and the exaggerated population numbers of these wonderful animals, the slaughter of Kangaroos continued, both for commercial and other reasons as expressed in the authorities to control wildlife, issued so readily by the Victorian Government.
"Victoria's Chief Health Officer has advised that to help slow the spread of coronavirus, you must not leave your property to go hunting.The current health advice applies until May 11 and will be reviewed at that time. Hunting on your own private property remains permissible. But we're asking Victorians to consider, 'Is this a necessary activity?"