Category Archives: Environment

Australian govt earns tick for stance on wildlife consumption


But there is a question back home.

YOU MAY OR may not have kept up with the recent Foreign Affairs uproar that merged into current Chinese tariff barriers on Australian agricultural imports? Well at the baseline of what became an Australian, US and Chinese bunfight, was a simple request for an independent enquiry into the biological source of the current coronavirus pandemic.

That was articulated by the NSW Agriculture Minister David Littleproud in the first instance back in March/April. He went on radio programs and sent press releases with statements like this:

“There are risks with wildlife wet markets and they could be as big a risk to our agricultural industries as they can be to public health so we have to understand them better.

“The G20 of Agriculture Ministers have a responsibility to lead the way and draw on global experts and engage international organisations to rationally and methodically look at the many significant risks of wildlife wet markets.

“Our people should have confidence that the food they eat is safe. We owe it to our domestic population and our international markets.”


The wet (meat) market at Langfang near Beijing. Photo: Giuolia Marchi, for The New York Times.

Indeed, more on that in a moment.

While Australia got mired in trying to define what a ‘wet market’ is; and whether coronaviruses are weaponised in shady biological laboratories; and whether the World Health Organisation was an accessory to this devious plot, the Australian Agriculture Minister was in no doubt of what to look at.

It was the wildlife trade adjunct to fish and meat markets at the epicentre of the problem. Here was a conduit for zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 jumping from animals, say bats, sometimes via an intermediary host, possibly civet cats [our feature image above, photo by Weerapat Kiatdumrong, on Dreamstime] or pangolin sold at the markets, to humans who consumed or even just handled them. It has happened before in recent times from HIV to Ebola, to other forms of coronaviruses in countries that consume bushmeat. And domesticated animals could be infected. Think bird flu and swine flu epidemics in recent times.

Simple question: the source of the current pandemic

Littlepround called for the World Health Organisation (as is now happening) to investigate wildlife trade and consumption as the source of the most recent pandemic. A pandemic that has brought the global economy to its knees along with causing three million human infections and counting. And focused laser-like media attention on the human death toll, leaving little room for other investigations.

While this outbreak started in China, other South-east Asian countries have similar trades. The point is to look at the underlying risks and stop them.

From the perspective of humane and compassionate people everywhere, the massive and lucrative trade in the world’s diminishing and endangered wildlife (for food, traditional medicines, clothing, or amusement) is evil, in and of itself, even before a pandemic risk is attached.

Littleproud told Samantha Armytage of Channel 7’s breakfast show Sunrise:

“We’re looking at the cause of this and I’m asking the World Organisation of Animal Health to be the lead agency on that. We’ve got to understand not all wet markets are bad, it’s when wildlife, exotic wildlife is added to them, which is what’s happened in this case, as the Chinese officials have identified and reported to the World Organisation of Animal Health.

“So there are many of these around the world. It only makes sense. The world’s got smaller; we’re part of a global community, that we come together and we do the right thing to protect one another but also protect our agricultural production systems that underpin our food security.”

It was recently reported that China had taken legislative steps to shut down the growing and selling of wildlife for these wet markets.

Farmers would be helped into vegetable production enterprises. While this is good, the same reports said China had taken no action on the rest of the domestic and international wildlife trade for traditional medicines, (bears and tigers come to mind) fur, other products, and amusement.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…

And while Minister Littleproud and his government did well here, compassionate Australians might logically ask them (in the name of safe food for humans and pets), when Australia will finally end its own little-reported bushmeat trade — killing kangaroos — the nation’s emblem and a top global tourist draw.

The world’s biggest terrestrial wildlife slaughter is conducted nightly, unmonitored and accompanied by institutionalised cruelty to joeys, in unsanitary conditions in the bush. What is mainly an export trade and now a rekindled petfood trade in Victoria and South Australia, has shamed this country since the 1960s. Most Australians either don’t know or would rather not consider it. But it may be past time to do so.


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“One stop shop” quick environmental approvals -to “simplify” business

Humane Society International Australia (HSI) 9th October Media Release, called upon Prime Minister Turnbull to call a halt to the disastrous and seriously faltering program to hand the Commonwealth’s environment powers to the states and territories, and to remove the “one-stop-shop” Bill that would permit such devolution.  “It was the Howard Government, in which Mr Turnbull served as Environment Minister, that worked so hard to strike a sensible balance between national and state roles and responsibilities for environmental issues and it’s time to restore that balance,” said HSI Australia Campaign Director Michael Kennedy.

HSI logo

The Australian Government is committed to delivering a One-Stop Shop Bill for environmental approvals that will accredit state planning systems under national environmental law, to create a single environmental assessment and approval process for nationally protected matters.

The One-Stop Shop policy aims to simplify the approvals process for businesses, lead to swifter decisions and improve Australia’s investment climate, while maintaining the facade of high environmental standards.

It’s expected to result in regulatory savings to business of around $426 million a year, by reducing costs associated with delays to project approvals and administration. This policy is about savings for businesses, more convenience for planning approvals, not stronger environmental protection laws!


Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt says that the “one-stop-shop will slash red tape and increase jobs and investment, whilst maintaining environmental standards.”  One of the major obstacles to creating a one-stop-shop for environmental approvals is that “Australia’s federal system of government is more like a scrambled egg than a neatly layered cake”.  Despite the wide range of ecosystems, territories, issues, biodiversity, and landscapes, they will all be unified under one process!  It will wind back 30 years of legal protection for the environment and put at risk Australia’s World Heritage areas such as the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and the Tasmanian forests.  On the contrary, we need MORE red tape to STRENGTHEN our environmental protection laws, not have them more easily processed!

It’s one-size-fits-all approach, of the Federal Government handing over approval powers to the States, for “development” projects!  The latter should raise the red flag – on what should be for the benefit of conservation, biodiversity protection and upgraded protection laws, rather than for businesses and “development” approvals!

The Commonwealth proposes to transfer some of its current responsibilities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) to the States. VECCI Chief Executive Mark Stone says that “in the current economic climate, removing the roadblocks to job creation and productivity is crucial.”

So, this is about stripping back layers of approvals, and complexity, to make businesses more competitive, create “jobs” and increasing “productivity”, not more layers of environmental protection!

Biodiversity Offsets

Biodiversity offsets allow developers or mining companies, as part of their development approval, to buy and/or manage land to compensate for the clearing of forests and areas containing threatened plants and animals. They are supposed to be used as a last resort but have become standard practise in assessing major developments in Australia. State standards for environmental assessment and approval for major projects under the Australian Government’s “one stop shop‟ policy would mean more biodiversity offsets, and lower conservation standards in NSW and Queensland.  The use of offsets under EPBC can be multiplied tenfold when it comes to state based offsetting regimes. It is these very regimes that the government is currently looking to accredit as approvals regimes under the “one stop shop” policy.
Native species of animals can’t just be expected to adjust to “offsets”!  They are not meant to be pieces on a chessboard, to be moved by business “players” for their convenience.
A report by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) warns against relegating environmental approval powers to state governments, saying the environment will suffer.  State governments are seeking to ‘fast track’ major developments, such as coal mine and coal seam gas projects, reducing public participation and removing legal rights of local communities to mount legal challenges.  The EDO report shows the gap between the environmental standards in state and national laws is widening, not aligning!
The EPBC Act contains a number of valuable tools such
as a critical habitat mechanism, provisions for threat
abatement plans, recovery plans, wildlife conservation
plans and the listing of key threatening processes.  There is no wriggle-room for State vested interests!
With almost 1200 plant species and 343 species of animals considered endangered or vulnerable, the rates of species extinction in Australia are amongst the worst on the planet.
EDO analysis confirms the finding that, despite assurances
that the ‘one stop shop’ policy would ensure State and
Territory laws met national standards, no State or
Territory law currently meets all the core requirements of
best practice threatened species legislation.
Places You Love Alliance — Australia’s largest ever environmental collaboration, representing more than 40 conservation organisations across the nation — said a ‘one-stop shop’ for environmental approvals was in practice an ‘eight-stop shop’ that would create an administrative nightmare and significantly weaken protection for Australia’s unique places and wildlife.
“A ‘one stop shop’ would leave state governments in charge of assessing uranium mines and projects that would affect World Heritage areas and internationally recognised wetlands,” said the Australian Conservation Foundation’s CEO Kelly O’Shanassy.

If the One Stop Shop policy is implemented, Minister Hunt can simply hand over his powers for this project to the Victorian Government, which has a clear conflict of interest in the  Westernport project as both the proponents and regulators. Under the One Stop Shop, the approval of the Hastings port expansion will be a fait accompli.

The One Stop Shop policy will remove the last vestiges of federal oversight.


Since 1997, most native forests available for logging have been covered by RFAs. These have shielded wildlife and other heritage and conservation values from protection under Commonwealth environmental law by handing decision-making power to state governments. This is the same mechanism as the Commonwealth government’s proposed ‘one stop shop’ plan.

It is clear that the ‘One-stop-shop’ process would never raise the bar of state environmental laws, but would put in place a patchwork of different legal regimes that are far weaker than current Commonwealth conservation law, and inevitably trigger a new round of NGO legal challenges at the state and territory level.


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“We’ve put the firestick in the wrong hands”- modern bushfire management

Indigenous people’s deep knowledge of the bush and their use of fire to manage the land is the key to modern bushfire management.  Writer John Schauble, for The Age, (16th Feb, 2016) claims that “one of the first things English navigator James Cook noted was smoke. The immediate significance to Cook was not that this was a continent on fire, but that it was a place inhabited by man.”  Thus, we must prevent fires the aboriginal way!


The incidence of fire has changed, along with our landscape, with one recent study pointing to a 40 per cent increase in bushfires between 2008 and 2013.

There have been major fires across the nation’s southern half, from south-west Western Australia to Tasmania, from the South Australian wheat belt to the Victorian holiday coast.  The cost, ferocity and frequency of fires is escalating, and certainly beyond that experienced by the land’s fore-bearers, it’s indigenous custodians.

It’s always been assumed that Indigenous Australians used fire to their own advantage using fires as a tool for hunting, farming and regeneration of the environment. The major cause of fires would have been lightning.  Most of the fires were relatively low intensity and did not burn large areas.  As a result, large intense bushfires were uncommon.

 Another article in SMH, 6 Dec 2010, pours cold water on the popular notion that Aborigines carried out widespread burning of the Australian landscape, and it’s a myth.  An international team of scientists led by Scott Mooney, of the University of NSW, analysed results from more than 220 sites of charcoal records in Australasia dating back 70,000 years, the most comprehensive survey so far. According to the report, it was the arrival of European colonists more than 200 years ago that led to a substantial increase in fires, the study showed. ”We’ve put the firestick in the wrong hands,” Dr Mooney said. ”The firestick shouldn’t be in Aboriginal people’s hands. It’s really a European thing.”

For Bill Gammage, author of popular book ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia’ – the hypothesis is that all Aboriginal people farmed all of Australia using fire. This proposition was first published by Rhys Jones in an article in Australian Natural History in 1969 ‘Firestick Farming’.

During the past 2000 years, burning activity was ”remarkably flat, except for the pronounced increase in fire in the past 200 years”.   That past “200 years” is due to European settlement!

People today are disconnected from their environment, more and more. The proportion of Australians living in rural Australia had dropped from just under 16 per cent in 1967 to 10.7 per cent by 2014.  Australians have become urbanized, and distant from “the bush”.  As a result, we no longer see the bush simply as something to be chopped down, dug up or redefined for agriculture.  So, the writer is assuming that due to “conservation” and being sentimental about “the bush”, and urban environmentalists, we’ve let native vegetation become too abundant, and a fire threat?

The article says that “any bush firefighter with more than a few years of experience will tell you that the incidence and severity of bushfires is increasing”, despite massive reduction in forest cover.  So, what we have left is more inflammable, and threatening.

The article concludes:

Perhaps one way forward for dealing with future bushfire is to relearn and apply Indigenous burning practices that have largely disappeared from some of our highest-risk bushfire landscapes.

That knowledge has not been completely lost. Now is the time to revisit a use of fire that put landscape, rather than man, at its centre.

Modern “Man” has been at the “centre” of forest clearing, introduced species, extinctions and the dramatic changes to our landscape, causing more bushfires.
Joel Wright, a Gunditjmara Linguist,could find no evidence of landscape burning in the Victorian western district but outlined the use of fire for smoke signals.  Write spoke at an AWPC conference, “Pause and Review”, November, 2014.
Joel Wright is an indigenous language, culture and history researcher. He finds no evidence of wide-scale burning in Aboriginal language and culture, but does find other explanations for the history of aboriginal fires observed by Europeans. These were often smoke-signals exchanged between clans, for general communication and warning of approaching Europeans etc.

The Advertiser, Adelaide (10th Oct 1893) reports that It was on the afternoon of April 20, 1770, that the smoke signals of the Australian aborigines were first seen by Captain Cook, and were taken by him as proof that the land which he had discovered was the home of a new race of humanity. The same smoke spoke to the watchful eyes of the nomads of the wilds of the presence upon their southern seas of a strange big ‘canoe,’ and the warning sign sped on from point to point along the coast.” 

There was no precedent for mass burning, or destructive holocausts of management fires, but their use for warning off invasions!

 Queenie Alexander (YouTube of Pause and Review conference) writes that reduction and ecological burning etc. are based on the assumption that all Aboriginal people undertook fire-stick farming. Joel Wright finds no evidence of wide-scale burning in Aboriginal language and culture, but does find other explanations for the history of aboriginal fires observed by Europeans. These were often smoke-signals exchanged between clans, for general communication and warning of approaching Europeans etc. There was also defensive burning to hinder explorers by burning feed their for their stock. Other fires were to ‘cover their tracks’ when they were being pursued, etc.. Many of these fires were mistaken for landscape burning. Joel also found one record of burning small portions of dry grass around marshes to expose an area to attract birds to scratch for food there, making the birds potential meals for the indigenous hunters. Nowhere did he find anything to justify the destructive and dangerous annual incineration of the landscapes of the Gunditjamara by the Victorian Government. He was concerned that burning the bush as we do now kills the birds and animals so important to vegetation stories, removes scar and burial trees and burns micro particles from axes and spears that holds the clues as to what they were used for.
We need a more holistic approach, of restoring and protecting ecological communities, in forests, and their canopies, to protect them from drying, and thus reducing fire risks.
Prevent bushfires the Aboriginal way– The Age, 16th Feb, 2016

Joel Wright, “The language of fire.” Did Australian Aboriginals burn as we are told?

(Featured image: Firestick farming refers to the practice of the indigenous use of fire to promote the well-being of particular types of ecosystems.)

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ACT Roo killings: Who profits? Behind the Earless Dragon mask

Human Population growth impacts on wildlife

The endangered Earless Dragon is being used to justify killing thousands of Eastern Gray kangaroos in Belconnen and Majura, but the motive is really developers’ profit. As grasslands are turned into building sites, as human population growth is encouraged.. Kangaroos are in the way, as is democracy, so both are being buried.

When an Earless Dragon is like a smoking gun we should ask who fired the gun.

Did the ACT government organize the mass killing of thousands of Eastern Grey kangaroos in Belconnen and Majura, near Canberra, in a sudden uncharacteristic and galvanic effort to save the endangered Earless Dragon?

Thousands of Eastern Grey kangaroos have recently been shot and bulldozed into pits in Belconnen and Majura, [1] Australian Capital Territory (ACT), in fatal massive round-ups which have not been seen since early last century. In a torrent of official reports and statements, scientists and politicians have fingered the Eastern Grey Kangaroo for overgrazing rare grasslands and thus threatening their other inhabitants, notably the endangered Earless Dragon.

Who would have thought that the little Earless Dragon had such powerful friends in government, planning, universities and business – even the Canberra International Airport? [2] The Grasslands Earless Dragon doesn’t pay taxes and doesn’t directly contribute to political fundraisers, but it is often associated with grants and development programs these days.

Were these culls really for the benefit of the Earless Dragon? Or was the Earless Dragon only an excuse for this macropod massacre, in which case, what was the real motive?

Although these planned culls aroused public ire and many questions, formal responses were highly selective. Many questions about the Belconnen cull went unanswered and remain unanswered. When the Majura cull came up on the agenda, the same angry questions received the same infuriating non-responses.



The public and the kangaroos deserve much better.

It was so difficult to make sense of what was happening. Could the whole thing actually be as cruel and stupid as the kangaroo-cull protesters claimed? Or were the protesters really childish people who could not accept the obvious need to put some animals which had ‘bred like rabbits’ out of their misery?

After all, the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) had given its seal of approval. That meant it must be okay, right? Right?

My own preoccupation over the months intervening between the Belconnen and the Majura kills had been to ascertain what population theory was used to arrive at the diagnosis of overpopulation or to assert that there should be only one kangaroo per hectare. My search failed. This question has now become one of whether there was any population theory at all.

A theory of how kangaroo populations behave is necessary for any outsider to be able to test the validity of the judgement that the Majura Roos or the Belconnen Roos or any other roos were overpopulating and needed ‘culling’. Saying that there should be one per hectare or that they may die of starvation are remarks which, on their own, do not justify culls.

I was amazed that official reports did not begin with a description of how kangaroo populations were thought to operate, how this theory had been tested and the populations measured. In an effort to find out if any real theory and application had taken place, I attempted to contact officials and scientists involved in kangaroo management programs of one sort or another. No population theory of any kind, whether or not demonstrating lemming-like multiplication tendencies in kangaroos, has yet surfaced as a reasonable basis of the culling of the Belconnen or Majura roos.

What did emerge was that there was an overtly declared perception of conflict between human activities and the presence of kangaroos in grazing and a less overtly acknowledged conflict between land-use intensification in urban development, such as roads and new suburbs, accompanying the promotion of radical human population growth policies in the ACT. (See, for instance, this description of planned expansion and intensification in the area.)


Dr Fletcher’s thesis oddly at odds with Canberra culls

One scientist who was closely associated with the Belconnen cull and the Majura cull, was Don Fletcher. Fletcher is the Senior Ecologist in Research and Monitoring in Parks, Conservation and Lands, Department of Territory and Municipal Services, ACT. His involvement in the Belconnen Roo cull seems to have been officially limited to capturing then releasing female survivors after inserting contraceptives in them. He was one of the writers of the public consultation document leading up to the Majura cull.

He defended these culls and has defended the assessments leading up to the Majura culls in a public consultation document. Yet his own thesis on the “Population Dynamics of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Temperate Grasslands,” (pdf 4.27mb) seemed to discredit claims at the basis of these culls, which were too high population density and a need to manage it down to one kangaroo per hectare. For instance, he wrote on page 237 of his study that :

“The study did not provide evidence that high densities of kangaroos reduce groundcover to the levels where erosion can accelerate. Unmanaged kangaroo populations did not necessarily result in low levels of ground cover. Groundcover had a positive but not significant relationship to kangaroo density, with the highest cover at the wettest site where kangaroo density was highest. Weather has an important influence on groundcover.” [3]

He also wrote that some of the populations he was studying were at the highest density recorded. They ranged between 4.5 and 5.1 kangaroos per hectare. The density in the studies below was expressed in square kilometers. To get density per hectare, divide by 100. [4] Fletcher wrote:

“The kangaroo density estimates reported in Chapter 7 for the three study sites (mean eastern grey kangaroo densities of 450, 480 and 510 km2) are the highest kangaroo densities reported. For comparison, the maximum density of combined red kangaroos and western grey kangaroos in the Kinchega study was less than 56 km2 (Bayliss 1987) and the density of eastern grey kangaroos at Wallaby Creek (Southwell 1987b) was 41 to 50 km2. The next highest kangaroo density outside the vicinity of my study sites appears to be that of Coulson et al. (1999a) for eastern grey kangaroos at Yan Yean Reservoir near Melbourne, which was 220 km2.”

Coulson’s study of kangaroos at 2.2 per ha was published in 1999 as Coulson G, Alviano P, Ramp P, Way S “The kangaroos of Yan Yean: history of a problem population”. [5] Graham Coulson’s Yan Yean article is frequently cited by kangaroo population students and he seems to be thought of as the originator of the “one kangaroo per kilometer” ‘rule’.

I did contact Dr Fletcher by email, and he was initially quite friendly, but when I attempted to ask him questions about his thesis responses to my emails ceased, even though I re-sent the emails.
For every assertion a contradictory one remains unanswered

The ACT Kangaroo Advisory Committee Report No.1 (issued prior to the Majura cull) reported conflict between kangaroos and the rural community which uses 23% of the ACT.

“A key issue for rural lessees is the conflict between kangaroo grazing and pasture and fodder crop production.”
(ACT Kangaroo Advisory Committee Report No.1. )

It stated as fact anecdotal reports that kangaroo populations ballooned due to man-made pasture improvements.

“There is general consensus that, in other parts of Australia at least, land clearing and swamp drainage to extend areas for introduced pasture, together with the increase in the number of farm dams has improved habitat for Eastern Grey Kangaroos and some other macropods, leading to increased numbers.”

But these anecdotal reports are very selective and easily countered by others, for instance in Dr John Auty’s comprehensive review of original documents forming the history of kangaroo populations from the time of European settlement in Australia. See “Red Plague Grey Plague – Kangaroo [numbers] myths and legends”

Other ACT researchers have also questioned the logistical principle of blaming kangaroos for human pressures on the environment, i.e. why blame kangaroos when we know that the damage is outstandingly done by sheep and cattle? In the Olsen and Low report case cited below the researchers are talking about farming, but they could just as much be talking about new suburbs, i.e. why blame kangaroos when the damage is obviously being done by human population growth, accompanying infrastructure and housing development (roads and suburbs), and human activities (driving cars, growing lawns, shopping, expansion of production, etc.)?

The discontinuation of damage mitigation as grounds for harvesting is in many ways a more honest approach to kangaroo management given that damage is difficult to monitor, predict and even to prove empirically to be an issue. It also removes the implication that kangaroos are pests.

However, some landholders still perceive damage mitigation to be the main reason for harvesting and continue to call for greater quotas, mainly during the recent years of low rainfall. Arguably, this is a socio-economic problem rather than an ecological one. Certainly, the issue of land degradation will never be redressed by simple reduction in kangaroo numbers when there is no concomitant control of sheep and other introduced herbivore grazing impacts.” Olsen and Low Report. [6]

Is the real conflict over the grasslands between developers and kangaroos rather than kangaroos and earless dragons?

Fletcher, in his thesis, describes Kangaroo density in the ACT as having “increased more rapidly from 1996 to 2000 after sheep and cattle grazing had ended.” [7] Sheep and cattle had been allowed to graze in the threatened grasslands. In some cases they have even been returned to the areas where kangaroos have been ‘euthanazed’ to protect those fragile grasslands.

The question asked here should not be whether the kangaroo density increased to take up pasture vacated by sheep and or cattle. The real question should be: Did such a reduction in sheep and cattle grazing then bring the unfortunate kangaroos into conflict with urban developers over the rezoning of agricultural land for rural use?

In fact, if we drop the non-issue of kangaroo numbers, the relevance of developer-ambition conflicting with retaining grasslands for any indigenous animals becomes obvious.

Kangaroos graze there, which is obviously better than sheep and cattle grazing there, but property developers want to raise far more lucrative crops of humans there by building roads and houses where kangaroos now graze, along with earless dragons.

Unfortunately the government is encouraging developers. Maxine Cooper, Commissioner for Sustainability, in her report on ACT Lowland Native Grassland Investigation, says that the “ACT is fortunate in being in a strong position to be able to advance the protection of lowland native grassland, in particular Natural Temperate Grassland communities and the species it supports,” … BUT… [she adds]:

“Protecting lowland native grassland from development is also a challenge as these areas, being generally flat to gently undulating with no trees, are often prime potential development sites. Much of Canberra’s development is on lands that were once lowland native grassland.” Maxine Cooper Report, p. v.

“Development that potentially affects lowland native grassland is either underway or planned for the ACT (see Section 5). This development has the potential to sever corridor and connectivity between grasslands and woodlands and/or other adjacent habitats. Many of the recommendations presented in this report reinforce the importance of connectivity.” Maxine Cooper Report, pp 74-75,

Now most of the competition with kangaroos is from property development. Stimulating property development is government policy and the means of stimulus is a policy to encourage interstate immigration and natural increase through baby bonuses.

This government decision to stimulate human population growth in the ACT and to expand development in the ACT causes pressure on the local kangaroo population and the population of the Earless Dragon in the ACT.

Grave failure of public education and democracy

The commercially-based decisions about human population policy which cause these pressures, however, are kept entirely out of official calculations, negotiations, and rationales pertaining to kangaroo culls and definitions of kangaroo overpopulation in Belconnen and Majura, ACT. This omission means that the public do not have the information to hold the government responsible where it should be held responsible, nor to question the costs of its policies. This represents a grave failure of public education and democracy.

Oddly, Maxine Cooper, in her “Report on ACT Lowland Native Grassland Investigation,” 12 March 2009, mentions and notes the threat to the grasslands from development, yet she does not factor this logically into the reasonableness of blaming and killing kangaroos.

Instead, she uncritically accepts the illogical explanations which she is provided with about kangaroos. She even provides further faulty measures of kangaroo population densities by rate of car-kangaroo collisions.

“The 2007–08 State of the Environment report states that motor vehicle accidents involving kangaroos has increased by 38% (from 563 in 2005–06 to 777 in 2006–07). Rangers have advised that they now attend more than 1,000 roadside kangaroo incidents per year in Canberra.” [8]

Although Maxine is aware that the building of roads and suburbs is impacting the grasslands, she does not stop to think that these are also impacting the kangaroos through an increasing rate of driving them out of their habitats and onto the roads to make way for houses.

If, however, commercial development pressure were properly assessed, then its role as the primary population impact on the grasslands and the cause of ACT policies to depopulate kangaroos would become obvious and the government would no longer be able to deflect criticism of overdevelopment and cruelty to kangaroos.

Who profits? When an Earless Dragon is like a smoking gun we should ask who fired the gun.

What of the Earless Dragon in all this? Small and scarce, it is not hard to imagine it fitting into a developer’s pocket-size native-style garden. You could even imagine thirty-something refugees from housing prices in Sydney and Singapore cultivating it in garden pots in new high-rises. Imagine is the key, since who would check up?

Pardon me for being skeptical, but the high profile of the Earless Dragon makes me think of advice to writers about mentioning loaded guns in detective stories. If there is a gun it is there to shoot a victim for a motive. The huge importance suddenly given to the humble Earless Dragon bespeaks a greater purpose than the self-evident worth of its own preservation.
Cherchez le maccabe. [Find the cadaver.] The Dragon is the weapon to get rid of the much-loved kangaroos. There can be no argument there, for we hear little else but how the kangaroos are threatening this little animal. Once the kangaroos are gone, the tiny Dragon’s profile will almost certainly sink back to the level which escapes most humans’ notice, unreported by the mainstream press.

Let us ask the ever-useful sociological question here. Who benefits? Developers and their friends do.

Let justice be done

You wouldn’t think it from listening to politicians, but I have it from a reliable source that, in the ACT, the biggest source of public complaint is cruelty to animals. People should realize that they are not alone in their horror at the cruelty entailed by all this unwanted (except by its few focused beneficiaries) and costly population growth and development. The Earless Dragon has been deployed with the effect of sowing paralysing confusion among nature groups by implying an ungenerous bias for furry kangaroos against ugly dragons.

”To save the beauty, or the beast; that is the question”

Eastern grey kangaroos are among the most appealing of mammals (Figure 12), while Ginninderra Lepidium, Grassland Earless Dragons, Coorooboorama Raspy Crickets (Figure 4), Striped legless Lizards, Perunga Grasshoppers (Figure5), Golden Sun Moths (Figure5), and other grassland-dependent plants and animals, are all ugly. Well that may be one opinion, but if so, it is irrelevant. Governments are legally and morally obliged to protect each species. Beauty is not a consideration.” ”A Pictorial Guide to the Kangaroo Culling Issue, Dept of Territorial and Municipal Services, ACT Government” [ 9]

This has the hallmarks of a straw man argument.

Let the community be heard as it rises to save the grasslands and return them to their rightful management by kangaroos and Earless Dragons. Let due opprobrium be publicly dealt the Growth Lobby by exposing its greed and cowardice in orchestrating the cold-blooded execution of thousands of living, breathing, social creatures for economic and ecological crimes they could never have committed, merely to defend its exceedingly narrow and debt-ridden interests. Let us sheet home to the Growth Lobby and its minions in government the depravity with which they attempt to corrupt our wider society. We are not cruel or injust. We do not support cruelty and injustice.

It seems amazing that Maxine Cooper can support a kangaroo cull when she also writes that the Majura Valley grassland is “arguably one of the largest areas of Natural Temperate Grassland remaining in southeast Australia” but that it has no long-term planning protection and there is no commitment for any, and that to protect it by defining it as a reserve would

“[…]constrain future development options, for example, the potential Canberra International Airport northern link road and the potential east-west Kowen road [… and] would also ensure that the Natural Temperate Grassland, the Grassland Earless Dragon and other threatened species are not adversely affected through incremental developments, as would be the case if the potential Canberra International Airport northern link road and the potential east-west Kowen road were to be progressed according to existing concept plans.” [10]

In other words, Maxine Cooper is aware that plans for several new roads and urban expansion are planned for the Majura grasslands and sees that it will be necessary to curb this development to protect the grasslands. [11]

Some of Cooper’s other recommendations (apart from those which promote the culling of kangaroos on illogical grounds) are good. I provide these in the appendix to this article.

Earless Dragon scarcity previously coincided with kangaroo scarcity in ACT

Don Fletcher, in “Population Dynamics of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Temperate Grasslands,” describes how, in the 1940s and 1950s kangaroos actually became rare in the ACT due to competition by European grazing stock. Even when these stock were removed, they remained rare for some time. Salt blocks were put out in the 1960s to attract kangaroos to the Tidbinbilla Fauna Reserve, where in 1963 employees went for three months without seeing one.) [12]

Oddly, at the same time as kangaroos were banished from the ACT, the Earless Dragon also became scarce. It couldn’t have been because of too many kangaroos.

“The Grassland Earless Dragon was very common in the ACT up to the 1930s but there are now very few left. This is mainly because there are so few areas of its native grassland habitat remaining. There are now only two main populations known in the ACT; and there is one near Cooma in NSW.” Source: The ACT Conservation Council,
[13 ]

Note that the Earless Dragon was also found in 2001 in Mount Tyson on Queensland’s Darling Downs. [14]
APPENDIX: Maxine Cooper, in her “Report on ACT Lowland Native Grassland Investigation,” 12 March 2009

Recommendation 23: Plan a Majura Valley Reserve to protect Natural Temperate Grassland and its supporting species, particularly the Grassland Earless Dragon, by defining the boundaries of this proposed reserve in the near future.”

“Findings that informed Recommendation 27
During the investigation, the Commissioner’s Office found it difficult to identify the location of lowland native grassland sites relative to planning zones that guide land use. To help the community and developers gain information on grassland sites relative to planning zones it is recommended that a map of the location of lowland native grassland sites relative to planning zones be published.

Recommendation 27: Publish a map that shows the location of lowland native grassland sites relative to planning zones. This should be readily available through the ACT Planning and Land Authority and the Department of Territory and Municipal Services.” Source: Maxine Cooper, Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, “Report on ACT Lowland Native Grassland Investigation,” 12 March 2009, pp 73-74

In terms of biodiversity conservation, the ideal approach is to establish a series of conservation reserves (which may include voluntary schemes) that are of sufficient size and biodiversity to maintain a full range of ecological communities (and hence species) on a long-term basis. It is also desirable for such reserves to be located to enable connectivity for animal movement and other interactions between them. 125
The natural connections between grasslands and adjoining woodlands have mostly been severed, but should be retained where they still exist.

Important grassland sites for connectivity between woodland and grassland are at:

• Mount Ainslie Nature Reserve and Campbell Park (MA05)
• ‘Callum Brae’ (JE02)
• Jerrabomberra West Reserve (JE03) and woodland to the west
• Gungaderra Nature Reserve (GU02) and Gungahlin Hill
• Aranda Bushland and Caswell Drive (BE10)
• Majura Valley at the Majura Training Area (MA01).

Important grassland sites for connectivity between grasslands are at:

• Campbell Park (MA05) and Majura West (MA06)
• adjacent grassland on either side of the ACT and New South Wales border via Harman Bonshaw North (JE06) and Harman Bonshaw South (JE07), Jerrabomberra East Reserve (JE05), Woods Lane (JE06), and Queanbeyan Nature Reserve (Letchworth, New SouthWales)
• adjacent grassland between the Canberra International Airport (MA03) the Majura
Training Area (MA01) and ‘Malcolm Vale’ (MA04). Pp. 74-75


[1] “Majura roo cull targets 6000, Canberra Times, 2 May 2009, and
Victor Violante, “Roo cull under way: 2000 shot”, Canberra Times, 9/05/2009,
“About 2000 eastern grey kangaroos at the Department of Defence’s Majura Training Area have been culled this week, with a further 4000 expected to be shot. Defence confirmed yesterday that culling had begun on Tuesday and contractors doing the cull had already achieved about a third of their target.
Defence spokesman Brigadier Brian Dawson said there were about 9000 eastern grey kangaroos on the Defence-owned site, and they would reduce the population to the ”sustainable level”, a density of one per hectare. This would reduce the population to about 3000.
‘The cull is being conducted humanely by licensed and experienced professional contractors,” Brigadier Dawson said yesterday.’”

[2] Kangaroos Threaten One Of Australia’s Last Remaining Original Grasslands, And Endangered Animals ( 080521114923.htm) “The eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) has always been part of the cityscape of Canberra, also known as the “bush capital” of Australia. But even Leipzig-based scientist Dr Marion Höhn and Anett Richter of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) are surprised by the high numbers of them. In her doctoral thesis, Anett Richter is investigating how selected invertebrate species such as ground beetles are affected by landscape fragmentation and habitat alteration in natural grasslands in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Yet during her fieldwork she discovered that there were far fewer of them than expected.
What she found instead were dry grasslands, grazed bare and scarred by the worst drought to hit Australia in a century. Particularly, she was surprised to find large quantities of kangaroo dung, especially in the enclosed military areas: “The results of the fragmentation studies are not yet available. But we assume that there is a relationship on individual sites between the extremely high density of kangaroos and species diversity among the invertebrates – especially in times of severe drought.”

In Peter Robertson & Murray Evans, /files/earless-dragon-management-2009-tympanocryptis-pinguicolla.pdf National Recovery Plan for the Grassland Earless Dragon Tympanocryptis pinguicolla, published by the ACT Department of Territory and Municipal Services, Canberra, 2009: the Canberra International Airport is listed as responsible for the management of earless dragon habitat at the airport (p.9); as possibly relatedly suffering economic impacts (p.12); as supporting ongoing studies p.19.

The Airport legal framework for protecting dragon habitat, including land management agreements and conservation directions, is outlined in section A5.1, p.4:

“Development at the Canberra Airport requires approval for Major Development Plans (MDP) (defined under the Airports Act 1996) from the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government (Infrastructure Minister). The Infrastructure Minister, under Section 160(2)(c) of the EPBC Act, must obtain and consider advice from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts (Environment Minister). Although an approval may be given by the Infrastructure Minister for a MDP, a permit from the Environment Minister under Section 201 of the EPBC
Act to move, take or kill is required to harm a Grassland Earless Dragon or its habitat. In issuing such a permit the Environment Minister must be satisfied that the action will not have an adverse impact and will contribute significantly to the conservation of the species.”

[3] Don Fletcher, “Population Dynamics of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Temperate Grasslands,” was on line as a pdf, which is the form I downloaded it as. A copy is preserved now under this article, linked here: /files/Fletcher-kangaroo-thesis.pdf because the pdf is now of limited availability, although copies are still at the University of Canberra Library, reference: A book by the same title and author has also been published.
[4] There are 100 ha in one square km. So if density varied between 450 and 510 kangs per square km, then that is 4.5 p ha or 5.10 per ha. With 220 per square km 2.2 per ha.
[5] Coulson G, Alviano P, Ramp P, Way S (1999). “The kangaroos of Yan Yean: history of a problem population”, Proc R Soc Vic 111: 121–130.
[6] Penny Olsen and Tim Low, “Situation Analysis Report Update on Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Kangaroos in the Environment, Including Ecological and Economic Impact and Effect of Culling”, School of Botany and Zoology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200
26 Henry Street, Chapel Hill, Queensland 4049, Prepared for the Kangaroo Management Advisory Panel, March 2006
[7] Don Fletcher, “Population Dynamics of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Temperate Grasslands”, p.40
[8] In Note 11: “The 2007–08 State of the Environment report states that motor vehicle accidents involving kangaroos has increased by 38% (from 563 in 2005–06 to 777 in 2006–07). Rangers have advised that they now attend more than 1,000 roadside kangaroo incidents per year in Canberra.” Although Maxine is aware that the building of roads and suburbs is impacting the grasslands, she does not stop to think that these are also impacting the kangaroos through an increasing rate of driving them out of their habitats and on to the roads. Nor does Don Fletcher, in his thesis, where he accepts reports on increasing rates of car collisions with kangaroos in Victoria, also a state with a population growth policy which manifests in rapid population growth and development and rapid depletion of kangaroo habitat.
[9] A Pictorial Guide to the Kangaroo Culling Issue (2006) from the ACT Department of Territorial and Administrative Services.

[10] Maxine Cooper Report, pp. xv-xvi
[11] Maxine Cooper Report, pp.74-75 and pp xv-xvi:

“Development that potentially affects lowland native grassland is either underway or planned for the ACT (see Section 5). This development has the potential to sever corridor and connectivity between grasslands and woodlands and/or other adjacent habitats. Many of the recommendations presented in this report reinforce the importance of connectivity.”
pp 74-75

“Majura Valley’s large, intact lowland native grassland area, which consists of a number of sites under the control of various government agencies, does not have long-term planning protection; it is not in a reserve and there is no commitment for this to occur.

Given the significance of the Majura Valley grassland, arguably one of the largest areas of Natural Temperate Grassland remaining in southeast Australia, the presence of five threatened species including the Grassland Earless Dragon, it is strongly recommended that a commitment be made to create a reserve in this locality.” [xv-xvi]

[…]defining the site of the proposed Majura Valley reserve would constrain future
development options, for example, the potential Canberra International Airport northern link road and the potential east-west Kowen road, it would provide a more certain context for potential developments. It would also ensure that the Natural Temperate Grassland, the Grassland Earless Dragon and other threatened species are not adversely affected through incremental developments, as would be the case if the potential Canberra International Airport northern link road and the potential east-west Kowen road were to be progressed according to existing concept plans. [xv-xvi]

The lands for the proposed reserve could be the subject of a formal conservation agreement between the ACT and Australian governments.”
[12] Don Fletcher, “Population Dynamics of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Temperate Grasslands”: “3.3 History of eastern grey kangaroo populations on the sites
All three sites had been grazed commercially for 50 – 150 years until withdrawn in recent decades for conservation or water supply purposes. Each site supported an unmanaged population of eastern grey kangaroos, which was at high density. Kangaroos were scarce in the ACT region in the 1940s and 1950s (Schumack 1977; ACT Kangaroo Advisory Committee 1996, p. 9). This included the study sites. The first employees in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve lived there for three months in 1963 before seeing a kangaroo (Mick McMahon, former employee, personal communication; ACT Kangaroo Advisory Committee 1996) and salt blocks were put out to attract kangaroos in the years before the reserve was opened to the public (ACT government official file: Tidbinbilla Fauna Reserve Advisory Committee – 1966).”
[13] Source: The ACT Conservation Council description of the Grassland Earless Dragon – Typanocryptis pinguicolla.
[14] Mt Tyson’s Grassland Earless Dragon: not extinct after all
“Chocolate bilbies are facing stiff market competition from the Grassland Earless Dragon in Mount Tyson on Queensland’s Darling Downs. GED (as the Grassland Earless Dragon is affectionately known) was thought to be extinct, but was rediscovered in 2001. An adult GED grows to around 12 centimetres long and has spotted spiky skin which makes it a camouflage specialist. […] The Landcare Group has received more than $7,000 from the Australian Government to fund a variety of activities designed to promote awareness of GED and create a conservation management strategy for the species. […] The Group had previously received funding through a State Government Community Natural Resource Awareness Activity Grant, which they used to commission the chocolate mould that was provided to manufacture the chocolate dragons. Support has also been provided by local businesses such as Ergon Energy in Toowoomba and by the Queensland Museum and the University of Queensland Gatton campus.”

Original article

Article by Sheila Newman, an environmental sociologist, editor of articles on energy, population, land-use planning and resources. She co-edited the 2005 edition of The Final Energy Crisis, Pluto, UK. Her blog is at
She also makes environmental and sociological films, including a series on wildlife corridors and kangaroo populations.

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Australia to launch new strategy to save endangered native animals

A strategy to save 20 declining native mammals such as the numbat, the greater bilby and the eastern barred bandicoot by 2020 will be launched in Melbourne this week. Threatened species commissioner Gregory Andrews said this plan would help address Australia’s unenviable record of having lost 29 native species since 1788.

The extinction of species in recent history has eclipsed the rate that the Earth would naturally lose species, and this gap is growing. Last week, another eight species were added to Australia’s list of threatened species, adding to a growing list of more than 1,800 Australian species and ecological communities at risk of extinction. Extinction is not inevitable. Extinction is a choice.

Conservationists examined the Federal Government’s current strategy to protect 120 of the most endangered animals in Australia and found for nearly 70 per cent of the animals, habitat loss from practices such as mining or logging was the biggest threat.


(image: “Numbat” by Martin Pot (Martybugs at en.wikipedia). Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The conservationists will take their concerns to the first national summit on threatened species next week. It is being hosted by Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, with the aim of bringing attention to species in danger and looking at how best to protect plants and animals.

Successive Australian governments have failed to protect the habitat of the country’s most endangered creatures. A report, compiled by the Australian Conservation Foundation, BirdLife Australia and Environmental Justice Australia, states that recovery plans consistently avoid any measures to limit habitat loss and that successive governments have “entrenched the process of extinction”.

Around half of all of Australia’s forests have either been cut down or severely disturbed since European arrival on the continent, meaning the habitat of a vast array of species has become fragmented or vanished.


(image: Greater Bilby -David Fleay Wildlife Park, Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast, South Queensland)


Not without irony, just last Wednesday, federal environment minister Greg Hunt approved the Watermark Coal Mine in New South Wales. China’s thirst for coal will come at a cost! The Shenhua mine will destroy 771 hectares of some of eastern Australia’s most threatened ecosystems. These endangered box and gum woodlands are home to rare and rapidly-declining species, such as the colourful swift parrot, regent honeyeater and koalas.


(image: Clearfell Wet Eucalypt forest in Maydena South-west Tasmania 2013)

That approval, given under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, is not the final step. Shenhua still needs a mining license from New South Wales, and three further approvals on water management and rehabilitation from the federal government.

Policy coordinator for the Australian Conservation Foundation said: “Threatened species protection isn’t just about feral cats. It’s about a diverse range of pressures and the biggest threat is habitat clearance. We have a choice – we either accept that we put developments in less environmentally sensitive areas or we will have species go extinct.”

It has been estimated that a ten-year investment of $290 million would reverse the declines of our threatened wallabies, bettongs and other macropods. We spend billions of dollars for submarines that will only last a few decades, but we cannot afford a few hundred million to save our precious wildlife?

It’s a tremendous challenge, against the tide of urbanization, mining, logging industries. Australia, the most biologically diverse nation on the planet, is paying a high price for economic growth.

(featured image: “Cutest Koala” by Erik Veland – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)


Olive Vale in Cape York is just one example out of many clearing permits currently in the pipeline.

Stop the Dozers


Unless we stop habitat loss and limit global warming, our threatened species like the koala and the cassowary don’t stand a chance.

Protect the wildlife we love!

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Australia’s culture of killing native animals

The culture or vilification of kangaroos, as “pests” and their killing has become engrained into our history as a macabre type of environmental “management”. It’s rationalized as a human responsibility to control their numbers, as we have changed the environment so much, due to infrastructure and agriculture, to such as way as to encourage their overpopulation and breeding! They thus are condemned for over-populating and causing mayhem, including environmental damage and threats to other species!

The great Canberra “cull” of kangaroos is being considered again, in our so-called “Bush Capital”. It’s an oxymoron, and it’s using kangaroos as a scapegoat for mismanagement and human-caused environmental destruction.


(image: a disturbing picture of the kangaroo "cull", 2009)

In July 2015 Canberra activist Chris Klootwijk, 70,  was arrested for blowing a whistle during the ACT Government sanctioned kangaroo cull which hindered the annual shooting operation.  Klootwijk is accused of hindering the cull workers by making loud noises, which included blowing a whistle.

It is alleged that his actions were designed to scare off kangaroos, making it difficult for them to be shot, and halted the cull for about 45 minutes.

Chris faces fines of up to $30,000 and up to two years in jail if found guilty because the ACT government is positioning the blowing of a whistle as a crime.  Whistles are not weapons, like firearms!

Borobi the blue koala has been announced as the official mascot for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Koala numbers have plummeted by more than two thirds in less than 20 years in south-east Queensland.

One of Australia’s leading koala experts has labelled this week’s unveiling of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games mascot an embarrassment. The sad irony is that koala numbers have plummeted. They like the symbolism of our native animals, but not the actual animals!

Tweed Heads ecologist Steve Phillips said the use of a koala as the Gold Coast’s mascot was frustrating. “What we’ve seen is that progressive development, and the end result is that decline [of koalas] is proceeding at pace,” he said. High human population growth on the Coast has seen koala numbers plummet, due to urban sprawl. Some critics hit out at what they believed was state government hypocrisy in using a “vulnerable” species as the Games’ emblem but conservationists said it could actually work in favour of helping the threatened animals.

Federal threatened species commissioner Gregory Andrews denied the outlook for koalas was as dire as conservationists believed.

“I would disagree that the future is so bleak. The future is much rosier than it has been for a long time,” he said.  Human population on the Gold Coast.

Over the past five years, the population of the Greater Port Macquarie region has been growing at an average rate of 1.62% per annum – driven largely by Australia’s massive immigration rates.



By the mid-nineteenth century as the European settlements grew significantly, a lucrative trade in Koala skins sprung up.  Koala hunters shot, poisoned or snared these animals off their tree perches and bludgeoned them to death and sold their skins for export. The main export markets were the US, Canada and Europe where the Koala’s soft waterproof fur was used to make hats, gloves and fur linings for coats.  (

Due to huge public outcry, Koala hunting was banned throughout Australia by 1927.  The importation of Koala skins into the US was also banned in 1927 by President Herbert Hoover while he was Secretary of Commerce.

Today’s threats to koalas are more pedestrian, of deliberate land clearing for urban sprawl.  They are seen as an inevitable victim of our housing-based economy.

Our “environment” department in Victoria, DELWP, plans to “cull” 25,000 kangaroos on public land this year, under permits issued by the Victorian Government.  They plans to kill 8560 red kangaroos and 5170 western grey kangaroos by Parks Victoria in the Murray Sunset National Park, 3000 eastern grey kangaroos by the Commonwealth Department of Defence at Puckapunyal, and 200 eastern grey kangaroos by Gippsland Water at Dustson Downs. DELWP said kangaroo populations were managed to “prevent crashing — or dying in large numbers from starvation ­during droughts — to prevent damage to vulnerable native vegetation and habitat from overgrazing, to allow heavily grazed areas to regenerate or to protect water catchments”.  Rather than magnanimously prevent kangaroos from over-populating and “starving”, its really a thinly mask commercial kill, to keep up the supply of pet food, being trialed in Victoria! (Weekly Times, April 15th, 2016)

The Colonial culture of ignorance, human domination, land clearing, and killing is deeply embedded in Australia’s culture.


In 1863, John Gould was warning of the need for legal protection for native animals: His warnings were visionary, and enlightened.

Short-sighted indeed are the Anglo-Australians, or they would long  ere this have made laws for the preservation of their highly singular,and in many cases noble, indigenous animals; and doubly short-sighted are they for wishing to introduce into Australia the production of other climes. … Let me then urge them to bestir themselves, ere it be too late, to establish laws for the preservation of the large kangaroos, the Emeu and other conspicuous indigenous animals: without some such protection the remnant that is left will soon disappear, to be followed by unavailing regret for the apathy with which they had been previously regarded.


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