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Last gasp: Birdlife and death in Australia

Life in the air

“The killing continues despite the catastrophic loss of birdlife in the vast scale fires, droughts and the very serious dangers of spreading COVID-19. Much of the killing occurs on Ramsar sites”. This is so horrible it is hard to describe, in 2020 it was particularly vile”. Peter Hylands

Peter Hylands

May 21, 2023

In the State of Victoria, Australia, seven of the eight species of ‘game’ duck were hunted during 2020. The species that were hunted in Victoria in 2020 were the Pacific Black Duck, Mountain Duck, Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal, Pink-eared Duck, Wood Duck and Hardhead. In this annual slaughter a vast range of other species die.

Australasian Bittern, one of the rarest birds in Australia, Photo Matt Herring

Empty skies and dying birds

We are increasingly lost for words. As bird song fades, no splash of wings, in once spectacular wetlands, now the wastelands of death.

“No chance for children to experience the world we knew. The innumerate and cruel pretending that a 90 per cent decline in birdlife on the wetlands is meaningless”.

On the twelve globally significant Ramsar sites in Victoria, and on many hundreds of wetlands, coastal areas and waterways in the state, the massacre of birdlife continues. And yet again, this time because of the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, the killing will start in earnest on 13 May 2020.

Injured and threatened: Freckled Duck

In the adjoining state of South Australia the mass killing of birdlife has continued regardless of environment, danger to people, drought, fires, loss, grief and cruelty. Without compassion and understanding. In Tasmania too, the horrors of the annual slaughter mean that water birds are in great danger when the venture into the South East of Australia.

The saddest thing for Australia, in all the environmental destruction and cruelty, the people who live in these once beautiful places, bear witness, as the skies turn from panic to silence. These residents also without hope of stopping the slaughter.

Injured Hardhead

Harm done: The tragedy of duck shooting in Australia

“It’s high time safety risk assessments and proper social / economic impact studies were done as to the impacts of shooting on the community. As it stands, regulators can’t even map all the areas where it can occur, which would seem to most to be an appalling safety risk if not negligence”. Kerrie Allen, Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting Inc.

There are several shocking features of duck shooting in the Australian States where it still occurs. The behaviour puts police and other public servants who administer the activity at unnecessary risk, it endangers rescuers, it engages children in violence towards animals and the shooting is conducted with precisely no regard of the safety, nor views, of residents in places where the shooting occurs.

“It was always a terrible decision to proceed with the duck and quail shooting seasons in Victoria in 2020, given the extreme circumstances facing the nature of Australia and waterbirds in particular. To have continued with these activities given the danger of Covid-19 was grossly irresponsible”. Peter Hylands

Wounded Pink-eared Duck

Shockingly the shooting of large numbers of waterbirds occurs on Ramsar sites, globally significant places where birdlife congregates, particularly during times of drought. Given the vast array of places where shooting can occur, policing these activities is near impossible.

Every year many species of birdlife are caught up in the killing, including endangered and critically endangered species.

Again, and again shockingly so, shooting has continued despite the risks of COVID-19, despite the massive 90 per cent decline in waterbird populations over the last 40 years, despite climate change impacts, the vast scale fires, the droughts and the reduction of places for these wonderful Australian birds to breed.

Curiously large amounts of tax payers’ money is spent each year in facilitating and supervising an activity that most people do not want, even more curiously there is plenty of evidence to show that these violent activities create exclusion zones in places that should be attracters of large numbers of visitors engaging in peaceful pursuits, including bird watching.

That means duck shooting blocks the opportunities for sensible and progressive economic development, which includes ecotourism and educational activities on Ramsar sites.

“The fact that unmonitored recreational shooting of animals is occurring in close proximity to homes and populous places, often before daylight, for weeks on end, is unacceptable. More people live in regional areas now than they did in the 1950s and more people are interested in nature based activities such as bushwalking, kayaking and bird watching, all unfairly hampered by the minority of the population who like to shoot birds for fun.” Kerrie Allen, Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting Inc.
“RAMSAR sites in Victoria and South Australia should be places of education as they are in many other parts of the world and NOT places of violence, abuse and destruction, even engaging young children in the cruelty and killing of birdlife”. Peter Hylands

Pacific Black Duck

Meanwhile the extreme suffering of our birdlife continues amidst the constant spin.

“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”. South Australian Government, Department of Environment and Water

Another curious feature of duck shooting is that we know that drug taking occurs, as does drinking, as the shooters socialise with each other. Guns and drugs don’t mix.

"I can’t understand how they can sit around drinking all night long and then be allowed to go out with a firearm". Local resident, Kerang
“There is a reason duck shooting is not allowed at Albert Park Lake. Regional Victorians deserve the same respect". Kerrie Allen, Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting Inc.

So we ask ourselves once more, why do these governments continue to facilitate this cruel and out-dated set of behaviours and exactly what is the point of it all?

Pointing a camera, and not a gun is a much better path to the future, for birds and people alike.