FROM THE AWPC PRESIDENT: In time of Covid-19, the wildlife issues that continue. Sadly, not much good news.
The animals need our help more than ever.
Peter Hylands, April 2020.
SINCE WRITING TO you towards the end of last year, a very great deal has happened as an evolving tragedy for Australia’s wildlife has escalated. There is so much to say but I want to bring this communication down to some key points for you to think about.
ABOVE: All wildlife in Australia is in crisis because of the severe impacts of climate change being experienced across the Australian continent, the situation will continue to deteriorate for a long time to come.
Source: Unnatural disaster, Creative Cowboy Films.
I have spent many weeks, starting from early December on the road, from the deserts of Central Australia to the fire grounds of New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria and then back to Central Australia. We (our family) should now be with our friends in Maningrida and Ankabadbirri, but because of the virus this is clearly not possible. Instead we have spent the last weeks in lockdown in inner Melbourne, away from the nature of Australia that we love.
Here are the things I suggest we all need to think about.
During our travels through the fire grounds it became obvious just how important the rescuers and carers of wildlife are. These are the volunteers who dedicate their lives to the care and rehabilitation of wildlife. The enormous efforts by carers, often hampered by governments, to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife has been recognised around the world.
Now an urgent task is to ensure that wildlife shelters get the financial help they need, and there will be significant issues relating to access to volunteer communities, particularly from overseas, for many months to come. This places additional pressure on the physical resources needed to care for wildlife.
View story and video: Chris Lehmann at Kangaloola,
by Creative Cowboy Films
It is important that financial pressures on wildlife shelters are reduced. There are plenty of funds available from the monies collected from around the world and those pledged by governments, to ensure equitable distribution of funds to where they are needed, in the front line of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. We all need to be vigilant to ensure this occurs.
Australian governments: wildfires, COVID-19 and the natural world
There has been some extraordinary behaviour from various governments over the last few weeks and months, including from the state I am in currently, Victoria, and despite the enormous loss of biodiversity, nothing changes.In Victoria, the quail and duck shooting seasons were declared, in the case of waterbirds, the season and bag limits albeit reduced. The mass slaughter of Macropod species continued in most parts of the state with government staff doing all they can not to answer my questions regarding these matters, instead offering up misleading spin and entirely wrong information.
The blocking of wildlife rescue has also been a feature of the wildfires, as have the plans for the intensified and indiscriminate use of airdrops of 1080 poison (particularly in New South Wales) into areas impacted by wildfire and beyond.
As part of the wildlife rescue package from governments large budgets, in Victoria for example it is the largest share at $7 million, have been allocated to “predator control”. Just $1 million of the $17.5 million dollar budget has been allocated to the welfare of wildlife where it is most needed.
I am assured by Victorian Labor politician, Nina Taylor, that 1080 drops will not increase in Victoria. [See related story this issue about the NSW situation.]
“I followed up on your query regarding predator control. The predators in question are deer and pigs. They will not be baited by 1080. Rather I have been informed that they will be killed either on the ground/via the air — this is being scoped out currently. We should have further details soon”.
I thank Nina for her assistance.
When I checked with the Victorian Government’s DELWP this morning I was told there was no information nor advice regarding the Kangaroo commercial trade in wildlife in Victoria in relation to COVID-19.
Thank the virus. Vic government guidelines appear to prevent duck shooters from visiting public wetlands, including Ramsar sites, this year.
There is also confused messaging regarding quail and waterbird shooting, the Game Management Authority (GMA) advising AWPC committee member Chris Lehmann that duck shooting would be possible on “one’s” private property but overall Victorian Government guidelines will prevent duck shooters from visiting public wetlands, including Ramsar sites. The GMA stated they have been heavily restricted in what they can announce.
Meanwhile in South Australia
The duck shooting season commenced 28 March (closes sunset 31 May) and current messaging from that government as of today (6 April) states that “the 2020 South Australian Duck Open Season remains open to South Australian permit holders. All hunters are reminded to follow government guidelines on social distancing”.
Clearly there are significant dangers here for regional populations, with elderly and often unwell and disadvantaged people, from visitors to the regions using local shops and other facilities. We may come to learn that double standards, and exceptions for some, are dangerous indeed.
What is particularly troubling is that it appears that even as the fires were burning, wildlife was still being shot in state and national parks in Victoria. Parks Victoria refused to answer my questions on the matter telling me to go to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for answers, these are underway. The government, under FOI, initially pretending they did not know where their parks were in relation to the permits being issued.
During a time where the population’s attention was turned to the COVID-19 pandemic, new forestry agreements were signed in Victoria, further endangering Victoria’s wildlife and biodiversity.
Similar behaviours are occurring around the continent, the list is long. I am particularly worried about the Great Barrier Reef, mangroves and their ecosystems in the Gulf of Carpentaria and beyond, salt water encroachment in northern wetlands including Arnhem Land, the health of the Great Artesian Basin and arid Australia ecosystems, the flooding of Torres Strait Islands and the use of fire as a political tool (ignoring science), even in tropical wet forests (including places on the world heritage register such as Hinchinbrook Island), exacerbating climate change and biodiversity loss, rather than moderating its impact.
Land clearing and deforestation continue and has escalated in New South Wales and beyond.
Given all this, alarm bells are ringing loudly regarding the behaviour we can expect during the economic recovery phase of COVID-19. What has already become the wild west for wildlife and the environment is likely to become much worse, as exploitation of the environment, including wildlife increases, and peoples’ capacity to stop what is occurring, is diminished by regulation or confinement.
What is required now is a modern approach to the issues I describe here, I would like to think of this time as a new opportunity to restructure the Australian economy in ways that strengthen the economy against future environmental and heath shocks. That means protecting the environment and the biodiversity that surrounds us.
The locals who care
The level of distress communicated to us from residents in various states impacted by the mass commercial killing of kangaroos, from the shooting of birdlife for sport, from the unsupervised issuing of permits “to control wildlife” has been both alarming and deeply distressing.
I have communicated these concerns to politicians and have been completely ignored. These are very serious matters and what this situation demonstrates very clearly is the discrimination towards a significant number of people choosing to live and invest in Australia’s regions. We will continue to act on this matter, as we understand its grim impact on lives and livelihoods.
Macropods and related species
These animals require a special mention. The treatment of kangaroos and wallabies across the Australian continent remains a disgrace. There have been recent attempts at “prey switching” as target species become scarce.
A number of shooting zones have been closed to particular species or entirely because of extreme environmental conditions and because the populations of target species have been shot out. The government numbers remain dodgy and the behaviour of governments around these issues is extremely poor. There is a great deal of misleading spin in the media regarding these issues.
In December 2019 the AWPC made a submission to the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes. The submission describes the issues in detail and is available here.
[Ed note: Many local and community groups in Australia are fighting for the kangaroo and AWPC urges you to follow and support them in your state and locality. Kanga Watch based in Queensland is a good example, as is Animal Liberation in NSW and Animal Protectors Alliance in the ACT. The Animal Justice Party in both NSW and Victoria and the Greens do what they can to influence their respective state governments through their members of parliament. Talk to them.]
COVID-19 and animals
There is no doubt that we are in the midst of our current pandemic because of the way in which we treat animals and the environment more broadly. We all know the story with some 75 percent of new viruses created by the unhealthy and squalid interactions of people and animals, including the trade in wildlife, and the devastation of ecosystems, and directly as a result of our own behaviours.
The current situation is of our making. Australia must now examine its own trade in wildlife, among the largest in the world, and a rethink of the way in which kangaroos and wallabies are treated is now required as a matter of urgency. [See more of this backstory by web editor Maria Taylor, Mother Nature fights back].
My own concern is that, as a result of what is occurring, animals everywhere do not suffer further discrimination and cruelty.
Solving Victoria’s extinction crisis
A Victorian Greens motion calling for an extinction inquiry in Victoria passed parliament on 30 October 2019. The inquiry will investigate and report on the decline of Victoria’s ecosystems, as well as the measures in place to protect threatened and endangered species, including:
- The extent of the decline of Victoria’s biodiversity and its impact.
- The adequacy of current legislation in protecting Victoria’s environment.
- The effectiveness of government programs in restoring Victoria’s ecosystems.
- Opportunities to restore the environment while upholding First Peoples’ connection to country.
In January I met with Ellen Sandell, the Greens MP heading the inquiry, to provide a detailed account of what is happening to biodiversity in Victoria.
Please keep an eye on the progress of this inquiry and make a submission when called for. As of today the information from Ellen is as follows:
“Parliament has signalled that the extinction crisis inquiry will happen, but we’re not sure exactly when. It could be in a few weeks, in a few months, or it might be longer. The first stage of the inquiry will be a call for submissions from experts and the community. This is something that can still happen while we’re all keeping our physical distance from each other, so we’re working to prepare material and resources to make sure the inquiry hears from you when it does kick off.”
This is not a time for further exploitation of the environment and secret and undemocratic deals and behaviours advantaging the few. This kind of behaviour will not provide the solution to how we recover from the economic shock of the wildfires and COVID-19.
It is also a time to reflect on our treatment of wildlife in Australia and to take this opportunity for developing new ways and structures to assist our beleaguered ecosystem and the animals that live in them.
The first thing to do will be to look at the government departments responsible for protecting ecosystems and wildlife, the failure of these departments is profound and expressed in the loss of biodiversity around the continent.
One task ahead for us all is to work towards the restructuring of these departments so that their purpose is not to defend and facilitate the destruction of the natural world, but rather be properly resourced to defend and care for what is uniquely Australian, and to do so for future generations of living things. That includes a proper set of policies relating to climate change.
At AWPC our task is to define some of the issues I raise here in terms of what actions can be taken to make the changes required to protect our biodiversity. We will work on this over the coming months and set out a series of actions we can all participate in.