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Dead duck

Life in the air

“Apart from the obvious interest and pleasure that animals give me, there is another aspect as well. I think their chief charm lies in the fact that they have all the basic qualities of a human being but with none of the hypocrisy which is now apparently such an essential to the world of humans”.

Peter and Andrea Hylands

November 11, 2022

We feel physically sick as we wake to the 4 am alarm. We are in the North of Victoria in one of the Murray River towns. Today is the opening day (16 March 2019) of yet another duck hunting season in the State of Victoria in Australia. We are about to drive the forty or so kilometers south to visit the Kerang Ramsar Wetland. The beginning of yet another grim day in the State of Victoria. The image above is the Plumed Whistling-Duck. The quote is by Gerald Durrell from his Encounters with animals (1958).

Ramsar: Lake Cullen

This story was written following a visit to the 2019 duck shooting season at Lake Cullen on Saturday 16 March 2019. Lake Cullen is one of 20,000 possible shooting sites within the state.

I would estimate, given the dire environmental conditions and reduced bird numbers, that the number of birds shot during this shorter than usual season (16 March to 19 May) will be lower than in previous years, but a number still above 300,000 waterbirds are the victims of this annual slaughter.

In these conditions it can be very difficult to tell species apart

Any way you look at that number, this is an appalling tragedy at international scale. You must also remember that this is the number of birds killed for just one state, Victoria.

“It is a terrible thing that we have to be here once again” Andy Meddick, Animal Justice Party

The Victorian Government and its politicians claim the duck hunting season is regulated through its Game Management Authority (GMA). The reality is that the GMA does not have the resources to supervise these events, occurring each year across the vast number of rivers, lakes, farms and wetlands (there are around 20,000 such places) where the shooting can occur.

The people who care: Early morning the duck rescue army receive their instructions

Why Lake Cullen today? The answer is because this is the site Laurie Levy’s Coalition Against Duck Shooting, Animals Australia and the Animal Justice Party have chosen as the site to conduct a major waterbird rescue on the opening day of this heinous event. This means the media pay attention to this place on this day and that the police and GMA and other government agencies are here.

The shooting begins

Most, if not all, of the GMA’s resources are focussed on what occurs at Lake Cullen. We have reports from other places where shooting has been active that no supervision is occurring and that shooting has started earlier than the 9am starting time to the season.

"I can’t understand how they can sit around drinking all night and then be allowed to go out with a firearm". Local resident,Kerang

Lake Cullen has been among the most popular shooting places for killing birdlife, Laurie Levy can recall a time when there were around 6,000 duck shooters surrounding the lake. Back then the lake’s surface would have been packed with birdlife across a large number of species. You can all imagine the sickening carnage as birds tumbled out of the sky.

Laurie Levy on the news

Today there are less than a hundred shooters here, many more avoiding the attention of the rescuers and media and going elsewhere for the killing. There are around 200 or so individuals here to care for the birds, including rescuers, veterinary surgeons, media and other observers. We are here to document events and to support Laurie.

The rescuers begin their work, gathering up the wounded birdlife

Kerang Wetlands Ramsar Site

No mention anywhere that this is a Ramsar Site.

So what of the Kerang Ramsar site? The Kerang Wetlands Ramsar site covers an area of 9419 hectares, including 23 named lakes, marshes and swamps varying in depth, size and salinity. The Kerang Wetlands Ramsar site is a magnet for birdlife, for feeding and nesting and providing habitat for many waterbird species, in total 76 waterbird species have been recorded at the Ramsar site.  

The first thing you notice about these lakes and wetlands is, that there is absolutely no mention of the word Ramsar, all signs describe the various lakes and wetlands as game reserves. This is quite extraordinary.


Many of these species of waterbirds are threatened at the international, national or state level and many are also listed on Australia’s international migratory bird agreements (JAMBA, CAMBA and ROKAMBA) or the Bonn Convention.

Some politicians care

The Australian Government describes the Kerang Wetlands Ramsar Site as providing recreational value for camping, boating, fishing and bird watching, as well as providing water supply services. It fails to mention the millions of birds that have been slaughtered and wounded here.

Police at risk: Young children are spotted in the reads and among the gunfire

Before the Kerang Wetlands Ramsar site was proclaimed, Lake Cullen was part of the irrigation system and was maintained as a full irrigation lake. This caused major salinity issues in First Marsh. After removal from the irrigation system, Lake Cullen became a regulated, fresh supply, non-irrigation lake within the system, receiving irrigation water when required. This means that lake levels vary. Today the levels are quite low and shrinking.

It is the fresh to brackish water conditions at Lake Cullen that typically support the greatest diversity and number of waterbirds. So the birds here today are sitting ducks.

“Two of the four original criteria for which the site was listed are based on the site’s value as waterbird habitat”.

In the line of fire

At the time of writing, of the 76 species of waterbirds on the Kerang Wetlands Ramsar site, 25 are threatened in Victoria, two species are listed as nationally threatened and three more species are listed as threatened internationally. 21 are listed under international migratory species agreements.

“If the fly they die”

Laurie Levy and Andy Meddick

Bird species

Listed species under JAMBA, CAMBA, ROKAMBA and the Bonn Convention are the Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa, Caspian Tern Sterna caspia, Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Common Sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos, Curlew Sandpiper Salidris ferruginea, Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis, Eastern Great Egret Ardea modesta, Fork-tailed Swift Apus pacificus, Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, Great Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultia, Latham’s Snipe Gallinago hardwickii,  Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis, Painted Snipe Rostratula Australis, Pectoral Sandpiper Calidrismelanotos, Red Knot Calidris canutus, Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis, Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres, Sanderling Calidris alba, White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeeatus leucogaster and White-winged Black Tern Chlidonias leucoptera.

The Kerang Wetlands Ramsar Site is well known for attracting large concentrations of a particular species, Lake Cullen is important here. Large concentrations of the Straw-necked Ibis Threskiornis spinicollis, Sacred Ibis Threskiornis molucca, Grey Teal Anas gracilis, Eurasian Coot Fulica atra, Banded Stilt Cladorhynchus leucocephalus, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata, Black Swan Sygnus atrutus, Australian Shelduck Tadorna tadornoides and Pink-eared Duck Malacorhynchus membranaceus.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Kerang region supported the largest colonies of Sacred Ibis (73 per cent of its breeding population) and Straw-necked Ibis (45 percent of its breeding population) in Victoria. There are also large breeding populations of the glamorous Royal Spoonbill Platalea regia.

Royal Spoonbill

Climate and general circumstances

Given the large declines in bird numbers, given the dire climate circumstances facing the region, given the mass fish die offs in the Murray Darling system, given the near impossible breeding conditions in places like the Menindee Lakes, given severe outbreaks of toxic algal blooms, the 2019 duck hunting season should not have been allowed to commence. Instead the Victorian Government comes up with the usual nonsense about sustainability, suitable conditions and plentiful bird numbers. None of it true. Same old nonsense every year. 

This poor little animal did nothing to deserve the cruelty and violence so vehemently promoted by the Victorian Labor Party, the party of government in the State of Victoria

Here is a brief snapshot of the recent climate history in Victoria, if anything, the adjoining state of New South Wales is in even deeper trouble (Following from BOM).

Rainfall in Victoria during 2018 was about 25% below average, the lowest since 2006. During the breeding season, Victoria's rainfall in September was nearly 65% below average (the second-driest September on record) and in October it was 51% below average, resulting in the State's ninth-driest Spring on record. 2018 was Victoria's third-warmest year on record overall, with the State's mean temperature 1.14 °C above average. All of Victoria had much warmer than average maximum temperatures, with parts of the southeast and northwest warmest on record. Many sites had their highest annual mean daily maximum temperature on record. Victoria's rainfall in December was 44% above average, while in January 2019 and February it was 72% and 29% below average respectively.
Victoria's mean temperature this summer was 2.54 °C warmer than the long-term summer average, making it the warmest summer on record. State-wide, the mean maximum temperature was 2.74 °C above the long-term average for summer, the highest on record. Many sites had their highest summer temperature on record.
The highest temperature in Victoria during summer was 47.6 °C recorded at Kerang on 25 January.

Andrea Hylands delivering an invitation to the duck opening season to Victoria's Environment Minister Lily D"Ambrosio

Danger zone

The dear little Eurasian Coot now flapping in the water in front of me, gunshot exploding in its little chest, just screams at me how futile and disgusting all this is. So far, Freckled Ducks Stictonetta naevosa, a Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia and a Purple Swamp Hen Porphyrio porphyrioare also among the 'collateral' damage at Lake Cullen.

The Ministers should know better.

The poor little Pink-eared Duck Malacorhynchus membranaceus in the image earlier was the first bird rescued from the water at Lake Cullen this morning. The injuries were so severe the little bird was euthanised by the vets in the rescue tent shortly after rescue. It is heartbreaking to watch all this going on.