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Ways and means: Killing Australian wildlife in Victoria

Life on land

“The Victorian Government is in breach of its own forest laws, allowing logging on steep slopes and putting lives at risk, according to researchers from The Australian National University”. ANU

Peter Hylands

May 21, 2023

In 2022, unauthorised killing of wildlife in Australia remained a serious problem. This takes various forms, which include killing of wildlife by landholders, vandalism and acts of cruelty towards wildlife and so on. In Victoria, two cases among thousands over the years are the discovery of the poisoning of 136 Wedge-tailed Eagles Aquila audax at Tubbut and a further four at the Black Range Forest near Yea. In this analysis we look at the State of Victoria.

The prima facie case

  • Wildlife in Victoria is becoming easier to kill (the analysis of data tells that story) given the current attitudes surrounding the issuing of ATCWs and relatively lax approach to prosecutions; and
  • The process in relation to rescuing wildlife is becoming ever more difficult given the efforts of the Victorian Government to stop rescues and relocations. Despite denials from the Government in relation to this conduct, there remains plenty of evidence of this, both written and in the field.

For most of us, the cruelty and suffering imposed on Victoria’s wildlife as a result of the circumstances described here are beyond comprehension. What is also extraordinary is that the dire impact of climate change on Victoria’s environmental systems has precisely zero impact on moderating current behaviour.

Authority to Control Wildlife (ATCWs)

Here are some basic calculations which broadly describe the impact of the Victorian Government's actions on Australian species. The numbers are to describe trend.

  • For the period 2009 to 2017 - 27,893 ATCWs were issued covering 1,282,761 animals (only Australian species are included here);
  • The average number of permits issued each year for the period 2009/10/11 was 2,410, for the last three years in the period compared (2015/16/17), the yearly average had risen to 3,919 permits;
  • For the number of animals authorised for ‘control’, the average number for each year for the period 2009/10/11 was 95,918, for the last three years in the period compared, (2015/16/17), the yearly average had risen to 204,594 animals, the number more than doubling in the period; and
  • Comparing the years 2011 and 2017 the number of animals subject to ATCWs rose from 80,368 to 244,303, thus tripling over the period.

Land clearing and deforestation

These quotes provide a very clear picture of the state of the environment in Victoria.

“While some of the most severe deforestation is occurring in developing countries in Southeast Asia and South America, tree-clearing is also a significant environmental threat in Australia. WWF estimates that more than 80 per cent of the deforestation set to occur globally between 2015 and 2030 will take place in 11 deforestation fronts. One of these is eastern Australia in the states of Queensland and New South Wales, meaning that Australia ranks among the likes of the Amazon, Borneo, the Congo Basin and other threatened tropical regions”. WWF, May 2017

Greater Glider, Photo Pavel German

“According to an analysis of data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), habitat loss is the number-one threat to biodiversity worldwide. Many more species are affected by processes such as logging and land clearing for agriculture and housing than by invasive species, disease or other threats”. The Conversation, October 2017
“Australia is likely to be releasing more emissions from deforestation than reported to the United Nations, new analysis indicates, stoking calls for an independent review of the sector that has delivered the bulk of the country’s claimed reductions in greenhouse gas pollution in recent decades”. Guardian, November 2021

Burnt logging coupe in Victoria's Mountain Ash Forests, Photo David Blair

In the period 2010 to 2018 Victoria cleared a total of 177,900 hectares of forest, with16,300 of that classified as forest over 30 years old. While the Victorian Government gets itself into trouble over and over again in relation to poor native forestry practices, agriculture, Australia wide is the major cause of deforestation.

Over the same period the Victorian figure compares to 2,446,600 hectares in the much larger state of Queensland (which has a terrible history of land clearing) and 663,000 hectares in New South Wales, where land clearing has surged because of changes to clearing laws.

“Victoria has the most native vegetation cleared proportional to land mass of any Australian state and it is failing to offset the damage caused, the state’s auditor general says. About 10,380 habitat hectares of native vegetation is removed from Victorian private properties each year, the auditor general estimated in a report tabled in the state’s parliament on Wednesday”. Guardian 11 May 2022

Too little too late

“The Victorian Forestry Plan provides more than $200 million to support workers, businesses and communities through their transition away from the native timber industry ahead of commercial timber harvesting ending in 2030”. Victorian Government Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, November 2022

Cleared land (native bush removed) is associated with exclusion or cluster fencing. This fencing is devastating for wildlife populations in a number of ways, some fencing specifically designed to entrap wildlife. Incredibly, this type of fencing is not only encouraged by governments, but its construction may also be funded by government grants.

Wildlife entrapment fencing at edge of National Park in Victoria

Urban development and government refusal to issue relocation permits

Entrapment of wildlife because of expanding urban developments is now commonplace in Victoria, while efforts to rescue and relocate the animals involved are routinely blocked by callous Victorian Government Departments. The claim is, that for a list of concocted reasons, that these native animals cannot be translocated. Matters go unresolved for months on end.

Road trauma and poor planning

The lack of wildlife crossings on major roads and no consideration for wildlife when planning roads, roads infrastructure, or other developments, lack of wildlife considerate speed limits or protections on roads adjoining or through state and national parks, Gariwerd is just one example of many, means a vast array of wildlife die on roads across the Australian continent.

Another road death, Murray Sunset National Park

On a journey through Gariwerd in December 2022, the carnage included various species of snakes and lizards, turtles, wallabies, emus and an array of small birds. Each and every day the carnage is repeated, most drivers oblivious to their responsibilities in these places.

Duty of care: Bullet ridden injured wildlife sign in the Gariwerd National Park. Below the sign is the skeleton of a Wallaby, across the road is a newly run over Wallaby

Experiments on wildlife by government agencies

Experiments that kill wildlife include those conducted by government agencies because of commercial activities under exemptions to Commonwealth Environmental laws. These are among the most perverse and disgraceful acts of killing wildlife in Victoria and beyond. There are numerous examples, a recent example is from Bendoc in the north east of Victoria and involves experiments on the Greater Glider whose population in Victoria, because of government logging activity in its habitats, has ‘crashed’, disappearing from some areas where it once thrived. It is of course not only Greater Gliders that die but everything else that cannot escape the destruction of habitat. 

“A government-owned logging company is conducting a controversial experiment expected to kill native animals that are already heading toward extinction”. ABC

This from the ABC's reporter Michael Slezak: "When asked if gliders that survived the initial logging would die when VicForests burnt the leftover wood", the company's manager of biodiversity conservation Tim McBride said:

"Yep, that's a very likely outcome".

There are also some very nasty experiments on Kangaroos too.

By permission of the Environment Minster

'Off-piste' killing of wildlife or government sanctioned killing of wildlife outside the published ATCW system includes the secretive killing of Koalas. This type of authorisation is used in an attempt to conceal a controversial cull such as the case for the 686 Koalas killed in the region surrounding the Great Ocean Road.

Killing of declared species of wildlife so they are unprotected in a specified area. (Actions under section 7A of the Wildlife Act, the Victorian Minister can recommend to the Governor in Council to declare a species of wildlife unprotected in a specified area).

Species currently subject to ‘unprotection orders’ are in place for the Brushtail Possum Trichosurus vulpecula living in buildings and municipal parks, the Dingo Canis lupus dingo on or within a certain distance from private land and three otherwise long lived parrot species, the Long-billed Corella Cacatua tenuirostris, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita and the Galah Eolophus roseicapilla.

Euthanising policy

Over enthusiastic euthanising by vets, a classic example of this is the situation for Koalas in Victoria. “This one looks undernourished”, so a Koala that has been rescued is killed rather than rehabilitated. This is nowhere good enough and reflects Victorian Government policy.

Recent examples from the Department of Environment in Victoria (DELWP).

Shocking conduct on a UNESCO World Heritage Site from Victoria. This place is a killing field for wildlife, enabled by government conduct and increasingly out of control. It is not wildlife that needs to be managed but the individuals working in publicly funded employment who are responsible for this killing.

Budj Bim National Park, 14 December 2022: A total of 93 Koalas were captured and underwent health checks over the six-day period. Of those checked, 58 were female and 35 male, with 34 healthy females fertility controlled. Given the over browsing occurring in some areas, unfortunately 28 Koalas were assessed by experienced veterinarians to be in poor health and were humanely euthanised to prevent further suffering.

“30 per cent and 24 per cent of the animals captured are being euthanised.  I've trawled through the DELWP fb page and found 11 of these posts, from 2015 to now.  Never before has the euthanasia rate exceeded 17 per cent.  In fact the average rate of euthanasia over 9 health checks before 2022 was 9 per cent and that includes the Cape Otway population, where far greater numbers of Koalas were being assessed”.  Janine Duffy, President, Koala Clancy Foundation Inc.

Budj Bim National Park, 9-22 May 2022: A total of 125 Koalas were captured and underwent health checks over the two-week period. Of those checked, 68 were female and 57 male, with 49 healthy females fertility controlled. Given the over browsing occurring in some areas, unfortunately, 30 Koalas were assessed by experienced veterinarians to be in poor health and were humanely euthanised to prevent further suffering.

The Koala story in Victoria is a shocking one, it is out of control and needs proper investigation. The killing done amidst dubious claims that the species is thriving in the state, while it is endangered in other eastern states.

NOTE 2019-2020 fire storms: The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape (which had 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.

Following those catastrophic days of fire in South Australia, Victoria (particularly the east), New South Wales and the ACT, the number of native animals assessed over three day period at Budj Bim was 171, 98 of these animals euthanised, 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. The latter are much more likely to escape fires than Koalas. During the fires across Victoria, the Victorian Government was blocking wildlife rescues on public lands, which had always happened prior to 2017, including National and State Parks. The Victorian Government even claiming, that young Koalas should not be rescued, as the species was overabundant. This as the world was donating very significant sums to rescue and rehabilitate these animals.

Long-billed Corella

Australia’s three Wombats

The Common Wombat Vombatus ursinus (or my preferred name for the species, as it is no longer common, the Coarse-haired Wombat) was also unprotected in the Eastern part of the state until recently. Following a public outcry the Coarse-haired Wombat is now ‘protected’. The word protected means little in Victoria and where they were protected and since 2009 to end 2021, the Victorian Government happily issued permits to kill 33,307 Wombats.

The Victorians Government’s persecution of Wombats continues despite the terrible impact of Wombat manage caused by the parasitic mite Sarcoptes scabiei, most likely to have been introduced by Europeans and dire climate change impacts including heat, fires and floods.

Climate impacts, Coarse-haired Wombat caught in the wildfires of 2020

When Europeans arrived in Australia as settlers some 230 years ago, the Coarse-haired Wombat ranged from south-eastern Queensland along the great Dividing Range, through much of Victoria, the southeast of South Australia, Tasmania and on many of the larger Bass Strait Islands.

Fast-forward to 2022, the Coarse-haired Wombat has a fragmented distribution, almost disappearing from the western half of Victoria and is absent from many parts of New South Wales where it once existed. The species has declined in South Australia and is now missing from most Bass Strait Islands. 

The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat Lasiorhinus latifrons, the smallest of the three species, its habitat once extending across most of the Nullarbor well into Western Australia, is largely restricted to South Australia, with the remaining and fragmented populations in Western Australia, close to the border with South Australia.

I have significant concerns for the fate of this species, persecution of remaining populations in South Australia, combined with the impacts of climate change heating and drying and now the floods of 2022 and 2023, may just prove to be too much. 

Let us hope that common sense prevails and the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat does not follow its relative, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat Lasiorhinus krefftii, the largest of the three living Wombat species, to the very edge of extinction. The Northern species, its range, early in the last century, extending through parts of Queensland (where it remains), New South Wales and Victoria, is listed as critically endangered with very few animals remaining.

The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat is one of the rarest mammals in the world.

European settlement has proved particularly devastating for Wombat populations and the Coarse-haired Wombat continues to be persecuted in Victoria and elsewhere in its range.

Killing for sport and entertainment

Extraordinary numbers of native animals are killed each year in violent and pointless activities such as Victoria’s annual duck hunting season (which also draws in the native Stubble Quail Coturnix pectoralis), an activity which, alone, kills and injures many hundreds of thousands of waterbirds each year.

Plains-wanderer, Photo Mat Gilfedder

This activity is poorly supervised throughout the ‘season’ and places at risk other endangered and critically endangered species including the iconic Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus and the Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus.

On the edge: The commercial trade in wildlife

History of commercial exploitation of Kangaroos and Wallabies in Victoria

“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:

  • Red-necked Wallaby Macropus rufogriseus
  • Black Wallaby or Swamp Wallaby Wallabia bicolor 
  • Western Grey Kangaroo Macropus fuliginosus 
  • Eastern Grey Kangaroo Macropus giganteus 
  • Red Kangaroo Macropus rufus 

For all species combined, the quota in 1982 was 33,000 animals.

"Commercial use of culled Kangaroos was attempted in Victoria in the 1980s to test the viability of a Kangaroo industry in this state. It did not prove to be viable". The Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE)

DNRE concluded that:

"The industry failed because of the low numbers of Kangaroos available, and the distances to be travelled between properties and points of processing, which made it uneconomic for the industry to continue. Commercial utilisation of Kangaroos has not been permitted in Victoria since that time". Parliament of Victoria - Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Inquiry into the Utilisation of Victorian Native Flora And Fauna June 2000 - No 30 Session1999/2000 VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT PRINTER 2000.

The story changed in 2014 when three species of Kangaroo in Victoria were placed on the commercial list. These were:

  • Western Grey Kangaroo Macropus fuliginosus 
  • Eastern Grey Kangaroo Macropus giganteus 
  • Red Kangaroo Macropus rufus 

The Red Kangaroo was removed from the commercial species list at the end of 2019 because of its rapidly declining population, but the killing of the species continued at scale in state and national parks in Victoria, the species’ last remaining refuges.

“Eastern Grey Kangaroos occur throughout the more extensively farmed parts of Victoria, while Western Greys are present in the west of the state. Both species are gregarious; the Eastern Grey Kangaroos forming larger mobs. Relatively small populations of Red Kangaroos are found in the north-west of the state. Though probably experiencing periodic fluctuations, the population consists of approximately 6,000 individuals”. Parliament of Victoria - Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Inquiry into the Utilisation of Victorian Native Flora And Fauna June 2000 - No 30 Session 1999/2000 VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT PRINTER 2000.

Despite Victorian Government claims that introducing the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos in the state would not increase the number of Kangaroos being killed, the number being killed has increased significantly since the introduction of commercial exploitation. The comparison follows:

When the three years 2010 to 2012 are compared to latest three year period for which we have statistics and plans, 2021 to 2023, in the pre-commercial exploitation period permits were issued to kill 119,997 Kangaroos. In the most recent period 613,400 Kangaroos have / will be targeted. The earlier period also included permits for the Red Kangaroo so the comparison is even more shocking. 

What we see here is a fivefold increase in the killing when the periods are compared.

This cannot be sustainable as claimed.

Victorian Government authorised Kangaroo killing, commercial and non-commercial permits since 2010 (Eastern Grey and Western Grey Kangaroos and Red Kangaroos until 2019) (numbers in bold authorised under Labor Government):

  • 2010 – 39,559
  • 2011 – 34,721
  • 2012 – 45,717
  • 2013 – 75,139
  • 2014 – 84,100
  • 2015 – 135,887
  • 2016 – 169,544
  • 2017 – 189,086
  • 2018 – 168,992
  • 2019 – 136,502 (Red Kangaroo removed from commercial list)
  • 2020 - 137,800 (Catastrophic fires destroyed wildlife populations and the world donated to help save them)
  • 2021 - 191,200 (Victorian Government claimed Kangaroo populations increased by 41 per cent)
  • 2022 - 185,850 (plan). A year of catastrophic flooding and numerous reports of Kangaroo drowning deaths amid the growing commercial slaughter. Quotas were not met in the year due to overinflated population estimates
  • 2023 - 236,350 (plan). Following the commercial slaughter of previous years and the devastating floods, and the impact of the floods continues in 2023, the Victorian Government claims a 24 per cent increase in the population of Grey Kangaroos in the state

What is occurring in Victoria in relation to the now constant pursuit of remnant Kangaroo populations is both shocking and devious. The truth is a simple one, if the ever increasing attempts to escalate the killing, year on year, are not stopped, Kangaroo populations in Victoria will be diminished to such an extent that many increasingly isolated populations will no longer be viable, their family structures already destroyed.

2023 represents a step change in terms of the quantum of foolish claims that populations are increasing against impossible odds (planned killing rates have INCREASED FIVEFOLD from what would have been the case prior to 2014, when the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos commenced in Victoria), with a very high probability that quotas in more and more places across the state, exceed actual total populations. 

Note: The Victorian Government's Department of Environment (DELWP) is trying to shift the majority of permits it issues to kill Kangaroos to commercial. Given that DELWP is issuing permits covering large numbers of Kangaroos in state and national parks this could also be a window for the commercial exploitation of supposedly protected wildlife in the only sanctuaries that remain.

A toxic land for the animals that belong

One of the most serious threats to Macropod populations is the toxicity of invasive species of plants. A careful inspection of the ground almost anywhere you can imagine on the continent will reveal a plant species that should not be there.

While the threat of invasive plant species to native wildlife may vary across Australia’s regions by climate and geography, in Victoria just one example of how catastrophic these plants can be, is an introduced grass species from Southern Europe called Phalaris aquaticaor Bulbous Canary Grass. In Victoriat he invasive species is found in farmland, state and national parks, the grass forms large bunches and is toxic because it contains tryptamine hallucinogens and a related group of compounds. The impact on native species, because the grass causes damage to the brain and central nervous system, includes blindness and destruction of the animal’s co-ordination and mobility. It is deadly and replaces native food plants. The impact on Kangaroos is known as the Phalaris staggers.

Invasive species of plants are likely to be one cause for mass die offs of Kangaroos in New South Wales. Again there is absolutely no empathy for Kangaroos in these circumstances.

Exploding populations, definitely not.