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Ugly duckling

Life in the air

"2017: We were out in the wetlands at 5.30 in the morning and getting ready. The opening time was 7.20am. There were probably at least one thousand shooters out on the marshes. This had always been a wetland know for brutality over the years, it had not had water for a long time”. Laurie Levy

Peter Hylands, Andrea Hylands

October 21, 2023

The annual slaughter of water birds in the Australian State of Victoria began on Saturday 18 March and ended on Monday 12 June 2017. The birds started to die as the sun rose on Saturday morning. As mass slaughter of birdlife goes, 2017 was a particularly bad year with 400,000 birds shot and killed in the 12 weeks of the Victorian duck shooting season.

Western Australia sets an example

"There is widespread opposition throughout the community to the cruelty and environmental damage caused by shooters... Evidence from previous [WA] seasons shows that injured ducks have been left to die, protected species have been shot, and fragile wetlands have been polluted by lead and cartridges. Our community has reached a stage of enlightenment where it can no longer accept the institutionalised killing of native birds for recreation".

Media statement by Dr Carmen Lawrence (Premier of Western Australia), 3 September 1990, announcing a ban on recreational duck shooting in Western Australia.

No such compassion in Victoria

So to Victoria and to 2017 and the state’s Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford:

“Environmental conditions, waterfowl habitat availability, duck population distribution and abundance are reviewed each year to ensure hunting continues to be a sustainable recreation for future use”

Dr Carmen Lawrence and Jaala Pulford were both Labor politicians, so why the inconsistency?

“They believed they could control duck shooting. Well they found out that morning that they could not. Shooting started at least 20 minutes before the opening time. It was not just one or two shots going off, it was a barrage of shooting. It was like a war zone and I was standing with the head of the Game Management Authority and he was just shocked and rescuers were going up to him and to the police and saying you have to do something about this. They were totally impotent, they could not do anything because it was an uncontrolled slaughter of native waterbirds as it always has been and I went into the water to rescue a wounded bird right on the opening at 7.20am and brought that bird out, took it to our mobile veterinary clinic to have it treated, walked back and I was promptly arrested, fined $930 and ordered off the wetlands for the whole of the season”. Laurie Levy

Laurie Levy and Andy Meddick (AJP), Kerang Ramsar Wetlands

Now to a front page article from the Melbourne Age dated 5 June 2007: 

"There has been an 82 per cent decline in waterbird numbers in Eastern Australia from 1983 to 2004". 

The source for this information were the Australian Greenhouse Office, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Water Services Australia.

Like most Australian wildlife, bird populations are indeed in trouble. The crisis for waterbirds in Australia was so deep that even Victoria managed a moratorium of recreational duck shooting (a repugnant term) in 2007.

Typically there are lots of numbers regarding populations of various kinds of wildlife floating around Australia. In Victoria numbers of ducks have miraculously recovered and the Victorian Government appears to believe it has waterbirds aplenty to dispose of.

An inspection of the Victorian Government's Hansard reveals some interesting things: Victorian politician Daniel Young asks Agriculture Minister Pulford questions regarding a decision to prohibit the shooting of the Blue-wing(ed) Shoveler (Australasian Shoveler) during the 2017 duck shooting season (they can’t even get the name right), offering up his own set of numbers from the Game Management Authority.

Young, then goes on to describe the limited surveys on which the Victorian Government's decision was based. He also questions the low estimates for Wood Ducks.

It all sounds like a lot of rubbery numbers which are used in the main part to justify the slaughter. I also find it very curious why a member of the Victorian Parliament would pursue an individual species of duck in this way.

The training ground for domestic violence

There are endless amounts of research around the world that link violence towards animals to violence to human beings, this is because the act of killing or maiming animals in this way, and in large multiples and in groups, desensitises people.

Given Australia’s level of domestic violence, particularly directed at women (and in some parts of Victoria domestic violence has been described as an epidemic) discouraging violence against animals might be a more responsible position for the Victorian Government to take.

Habitat loss and climate change

Habitat loss and climate change are disrupting bird populations along with all other groups of life, as is the exploitation of wildlife in Australia.

“The Andrews government has refused to shut down one of Victoria’s popular duck hunting regions, despite being repeatedly warned that chemical contamination could pose a risk to human health. With the opening of duck hunting season this Saturday, the government has been under pressure to suspend shooting at the Heart Morass wetlands in Gippsland after the Department of Defence recently discovered “elevated risks” from a hazardous chemical used in household products and firefighting foam known as polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS)”. Canberra Times

Duck species in the firing line

  • Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa
  • Australian Wood Duck or Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata
  • Grey Teal Anas gracilis
  • Chestnut Teal Anas castanea
  • Pink-eared Duck Malacorhynchus membranaceus
  • Mountain Duck or Australian Shelduck Tadorna tadornoides
  • Hardhead or White-eyed Duck Aythya australis
  • Australasian Shoveler Anas rhynchotis

Early in the morning and when the birds take to the air against the rising sun, individual species are very hard to identify.

As I understand the situation in Victoria, it looks something like this, shooters are required to take one species identification test in a shooting lifetime.

Many other waterbird species are caught up in the slaughter, Black Swans, Ibis, Spoonbills, Cormorants and Long-billed Corellas to name but a few.

“Duck shooting is not a sport and the slaying of waterfowl is not a measure of human skill. It was an easy reform, instantly understood and seen as being a reasonable, humane policy. No one has ever proposed it be reinstated”. The Hon. Bob Carr, Former Premier of NSW

Callous and questionable economics

Claims are made that duck shooting is somehow good for economic development. All human activity has an economic consequence. Australia talks about building intelligent communities and that is where economic and jobs growth begins, it does not include the mass slaughter of wildlife.

The problem for nature in Australia is that it has no economic value and hence it can be destroyed without a second thought. Australia’s wildlife can contribute far more to Australia’s economy alive rather than dead or mutilated.

Quotes from Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford 

“Duck season is a customary trip away for many families and is an important economic contributor to the rural economy, bringing 26,000 licensed duck hunters to small towns and regional centres across the state”.
“Environmental conditions, waterfowl habitat availability, duck population distribution and abundance are reviewed each year to ensure hunting continues to be a sustainable recreation for future generations”.
“The settings for the 2017 duck season reflect the expert advice provided by the Game Management Authority (GMA) based on extensive habitat and waterbird surveys conducted across eastern Australia. The surveys found that last winter’s rainfall has resulted in a significant increase in waterbird breeding and extensive and widespread habitat availability. This has allowed game ducks to breed for a second time and disperse widely across the landscape”.

Quotes from Minister for Environment, Lily D’Ambrosio

“The Government has made this decision because we take seriously the long term environmental impacts of hunting on bird populations and other native wildlife, as well as the future sustainability of the industry".

Koorangie Marshes Massacre 2017

“Breeding species’ richness, breeding abundance, and wetland area declined sharply compared to the previous year. Despite some short term increases, there were continued long term declines in total abundance, wetland area and breeding species richness”. Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia - October 2017 Annual Summary Report, University of NSW

Due to large numbers of threatened Freckled and Blue-billed Ducks, CADS pushed for this wetland to be closed to shooting, but the request was unsuccessful.

This is a Ramsar site, but you would not know it

On the opening morning, a barrage of shooting started 20 minutes early, yet the many regulating officers and police present were powerless to stop it.

Game Management Authority compliance officers stayed on shore due to OH&S regulations. Rescuers exposed the massacre and recovered 183 illegally shot threatened species and 296 protected birds.

Altogether that year, 1,500 dead birds were delivered to politicians and around 10,000 spent shotgun cartridges were left outside Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford’s office in Ballarat.

“We brought out 120 threatened species (from that one wetland alone) mainly made up of Freckled Ducks Stictonetta naevosa (endangered in Victoria), which are unique to Australia and also Blue-billed Ducks Oxyura australis (endangered in Victoria)”.

Freckled Duck