State of play: Wildlife in Victoria

Victoria-state-border-signage

Amid claims from the Victorian Government that various native species are overabundant, and extraordinarily these claims still continue in various plans being issued by the Victorian Government, despite the vast scale loss of wildlife in the devastating fires.

Here is an updated analysis of some of the Victorian Government’s numbers (publicly available or obtained under FOI) from our President, Peter Hylands, as he describes the real situation for Australian wildlife in the State of Victoria. The question we need to ask is why is so much wildlife dying in Victoria because of the enabling and often promotion of these killing activities by the very government responsible for the welfare of these precious and unique animals?

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2020 WAS A very grim year for Victoria’s Australian species. What we can tell you is that Australian wildlife in Victoria is anything but protected. Wildlife in Victoria is also subject to extreme acts of cruelty. Much of this activity is encouraged and enabled by its current government.

“As we managed to get caught in Melbourne’s extensive lockdown and ring of steel which locked up the city for many weeks, I have taken some of that time to investigate the current circumstances for Victoria’s native species. As always, marsupials and birdlife are in the forefront of the abuse. I have created this as a reference document for the reader to use”.

Here are some simple facts for Victoria that tell a very grim story, yet the killing continues and is encouraged by the Victorian Government, and oddly by organisations such as the Country Women’s Association (CWA) as has recently been the case in Central Victoria.

At a time of dire environmental conditions, including vast scale bushfires, the killing of Australia’s wildlife in Victoria has continued at scale. Permits to kill Kangaroos on a very large scale have been issued across Victoria’s regions (including Central Victoria) and populations are declining rapidly region by region, as remaining populations are targeted by commercial and non-commercial shooting activities.

As is the case for the rest of Australia, the Victorian Government Kangaroo population estimates are exaggerated and this means that commercial quotas are most often not met (because the Kangaroos are not there in the numbers stated) and in at least one case in Victoria, and for one species of Kangaroo (it is now coming close to being more than one species), the number of permits being issued and the number of animals covered by these permits is likely to exceed their entire state population for that species. Victoria has been converting its Authority to Control Wildlife (ATCW) Kangaroo permits to commercial permits, a process that commenced in 2014. We can however expect to see a drop off of animals killed in Victoria against commercial quotas as populations dwindle. Australia, including Victoria, is the leading exterminator of mammal species in the world.

“In early March 2020 I was working in the desert country to the west of Alice Springs, a remote place where I often stay. Coming in to see our friends in Hermannsburg I rang the Victorian ecodev number 136 186 to enquire how the latest Kangaroo harvest quotas had been calculated for each Victorian region. I was put through to a staff member in Ballarat and initially told there had been surveys in both 2019 and 2020. I knew this to be incorrect so when I queried the response, I was given a lecture about how terrible these animals are and told that people (like me) living in cities do not understand the issues. Given that I have owned two significant rural properties, one in Central Victoria over many decades and another near the Endeavour River in Far North Queensland and I spend time working in the remotest places in Australia and I know a lot about numbers, these claims seemed pretty outrageous”. — Peter Hylands

Impact of the commercial trade in Kangaroos on killing rates in Victoria

The repugnantly named Kangaroo Harvesting Program (KHP) began in Victoria on 1 October 2019 following the Kangaroo Pet Food Trial (KPFT) which commenced in 2014. If the periods 2009–13 and 2014–18 are compared, the rate of killing roughly tripled from 259,288 to 747,659 animals when those periods are compared. Sadly, having saved the Red Kangaroo from the pet food can in Victoria over concerns with vastly exaggerated population numbers, the high level of animals subject to the non-commercial ATCW permit in 2019 (10,073 animals) can only be described as malicious conduct.

These next numbers required a bit of guess work so may be out by a small margin, but it looks like since 2009, much of it occurring from 2014 on, permits were issued to kill 1,385,339 Kangaroos, of which 555,026 were victims to the commercial trade in wildlife, across three species, that is the Eastern Grey, the Western Grey and the Red Kangaroo (other species were also killed in substantial numbers). If we add another 20 percent to that number for the number of Joeys killed by these activities that adds yet another 277,000 animals to the slaughter since 2009.

“The claims from both politicians and public servants in Victoria that the Kangaroo Pet Food Trial would not increase the rate of Kangaroo killing, and then, once the trial had commenced, claims that significant increases in the killing rate (for example an increase of the killing rate for the Red Kangaroo of 759 times over the 2011 control total) was due to favourable climatic conditions, and hence conditions for breeding resulting in population increases, are simply untrue. This becomes entirely obvious once the increases in kill rates are analysed by region. The very significant increases in kill rates occurred in the Kangaroo Pet Food Trial zones. This is simply disgraceful, particularly given the rates of killing from the period the trial commenced, that it is most probable that populations had started to decline rapidly during 2016.”

— Peter Hylands, 2018

The most Eastern Grey Kangaroos for which permits were issued in the period 01/01/2017 to 31/10/2019 in any shire, were in the Mitchell Shire in Melbourne’s North at 37,920. While this number is a complete disgrace in itself, it is troubling in another sense, in that the greatest level of killing is now associated with regions closer to Melbourne and not traditionally the core Kangaroo killing grounds in those places where the greatest Kangaroo populations once existed.

On inspection of Victorian Government data under FOI we discovered this note attached to the tables as a footnote

NOTE: that the Western Grey Kangaroo figures is considered highly inflated, as the reporting tool only allows harvesters to identify Western Greys which is creating user error – enhancements to the reporting tool will be implemented in 2020.

This NOTE is startling for two reasons – the Kangaroo Pet Food Trial and full commercial market, have combined, now been operating for six years, and DELWP are still not able to know what species are being killed. Secondly this makes a complete mockery of the Kangaroo surveys in Victoria and the population numbers these expensive (to the public purse) activities generate.

Surveys

“In its extensive and recent Kangaroo surveys the Victorian Government were able to count just 23 Red Kangaroos and 2,607 Grey Kangaroos (both Eastern and Western Greys) in 2017 and in a much more extensive survey in 2018 they counted just 91 Red Kangaroos and 4,707 Grey Kangaroos (again this figure includes both Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroos). We should also not forget that the Victorian Government is spending a great deal of taxpayers money establishing and ‘managing’ (it is a disgrace) this commercial trade in Australia’s wildlife as well as its disastrous persecution of birdlife on Victoria’s dwindling wetlands. There needs to be proper accountability within government for the various scandals that have emerged in the last few years”. — Peter Hylands, 2019

Victorian Government comparisons — Coalition/Labor (2009–18)

  •  In Victoria in the ten-year period 2009–18 inclusive a total of 32,147 ATCWs were issued for Australian species covering 1,513,605 animals.
  •  In Victoria, the total number of animals subject to ATCWs in the period 2016–18 was 2.3 times higher than the number of animals subject to ATCWs 2009–11.
  •  The number of ATCWs (permits) issued in 2016–18 was 1.66 times higher than the number of ATCWs issued in the period 2009–11.
  •  Victoria is also not the place to be if you happen to be a bird, 73 percent of species subject to control in Victoria were bird species with a total of 397,549 birds, of which 182,721 or 45 percent were from a range of parrot species. We also need to remember that ATCWs are not the only way animals in Victoria die, so we can add another 4.5 million dead water birds and Quail (I am being modest in my calculations) in the last ten years to the tally in Victoria because of duck shooting in the state. So all up, that is around 4.9 million birds in the state in the ten year period.
  •  Politics and nature: The Victorian Labor Government was elected in November 2014 and has increased the number of animals killed across a range of mechanisms. The Labor tally in relation to ATCWs in the years 2015–18 totals 16,010 ATCW permits covering 844,625 animals. In the previous four-year period the Liberal–National Coalition Government in Victoria issued 11,146 ATCW permits covering 461,593 animals, 54 percent of the Labor total.

ATCWs issued in 2019 – summary

In 2019 the Victorian Labor Government added a further 3,429 ATCW permits (covering 57 native species) to the list of Australian wildlife to be ‘controlled’ covering 183,586 native animals (remember this excludes wildlife killed by commercial wildlife activities [which are growing], other types of hunting, unprotected species and young etc). The real shockers in 2019, despite a range of circumstances and reasons not to be doing it, are the continued and extensive persecution of flying foxes (in this case the dying and disruption to breeding occurs during scaring events) and the significant number of animals covered by ATCWs for Emus, Wombats, Cockatoos and other Parrot species, Red Kangaroos and Western Grey Kangaroos (despite their likely status).

The poor Eastern Grey Kangaroo heads the list, despite its populations being decimated by commercial activities, at 112,477 animals. Shockingly, 20,837 ATCWs to kill 1,001,965 Eastern Grey Kangaroos have been issued since 2009.

Although still relatively few in terms of the number of permits issued Australian Fur Seals seem to have attracted some attention in the year, with the number of permits being issued almost matching those for the previous decade total for the species. The Australian Raven also took a hammering in the year, as did Black Swans.

ATCWs Victoria 2009-19

“The reasons given for issuing ATCW permits and killing these animals are trite at best and include they eat grass, damage fences, are fouling water and migrating weeds (cattle and other farmed animals do these things far more effectively than native animals can ever do).”  — Peter Hylands, 2020

Below are part of my Questions with Answers from the Victorian Government.

In the listing of ATCWs 2009–2017 what is the split between lethal and non-lethal methods over this period? My research indicates that the department is against moving wildlife, preferring it to be destroyed.  DELWP is unable to provide the split between authorisations for lethal and non-lethal control as our current permit database does not have the function to be able to produce a report on this. A new database is being developed which will address this limitation.

How many ATCW applications have been rejected?  Our current permit database does not have the function to able to produce a report on this. A new database is currently being developed which will address this limitation.

What species are off the list in terms of not requiring an ATCW to destroy them?  Under section 7A of the Wildlife Act, the Minister can recommend to the Governor in Council to declare a species of wildlife unprotected in a specified area. Whilst this means that the unprotected species of wildlife may be controlled without an ATCW, it does not mean that control is not regulated. The unprotection order will specify the period and area to which the Order applies, in what circumstances the species is unprotected, and the conditions that must be met, such as who may control the species and the methods they may use. There are currently unprotection orders in place for Brushtail Possums living in buildings and municipal parks, Dingos on or within a certain distance from private land for the protection of livestock, and Long-billed Corellas, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Galahs causing damage to property.

Why has the annual rate of animals subject to ATCWs risen so sharply?  Wildlife population numbers fluctuate as availability of food and water changes in response to variations in temperature and rainfall. This means that the number of ATCWs sought by landholders also fluctuates year by year. For example, if there are dry conditions then landholders are more likely to seek an ATCW to reduce the competition between wildlife and their stock for feed.

In Victoria has any of the funding allocated from the Government’s January 2020 $17.5 million wildlife and biodiversity rescue package been used for lethal control of pest species, including use of aerial drops of 1080? (note Kangaroo meat is used extensively in Australia as a substrate for aerial and other baiting – the use of 1080 poison in aerial drops is banned in most countries around the world because of cruelty reasons and its indiscriminate impact on numerous species).  The substrate for aerially deployed 1080 baits in Victoria does not contain kangaroo. All aerial bait lines and bait drops are mapped with tree canopy cover considered in developing bait lines. Bait drops are deployed accurately using aircraft navigation, specialised equipment and GPS technology based on heights and airspeed according to environmental conditions. Bait lodgement in the canopy of trees is not a concern. The impact of pest animals in fire-impacted areas can greatly affect the survival of native plants and animals and the recovery of threatened species and their habitat. Intensified and sustained control of pest animals has been funded as a priority immediate action under the Biodiversity Bushfire Relief and Early Recovery (BBRER) program.  A range of integrated control techniques will be used, including aerial and ground shooting, trapping and ground baiting. Baits used as part of the ground baiting will be buried at an appropriate depth to reduce the risk of non-target impact. No aerial baiting will be funded under the BBRER program. The use of alternatives to 1080 baits, such as PAPP (para-aminopropiophenne) based products, will be trialled in BBRER funded projects. PAPP is a humane, fast-acting toxin.

NOTE: 1080 baits are and have been used extensively in Victoria and other programs continue.

Far from the transparency the Victorian Government pretends, I have had great difficulty on extracting information about the government’s own killing activities relating to Australian wildlife on public lands including state and national parks (particularly at the time of the fires). After initially refusing to provide the information the request has been subject to a series of FOI requests and more recently Questions on Notice in the Victorian Parliament.

What lethal control activities involving native wildlife were undertaken by the Government during the period of October 2019 to February 2020, and is data available on the species and quantities controlled?  Records held by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) show that during the period in question, eight Authorities to Control Wildlife (ATCWs) were issued to government agencies for the lethal control of a range of native wildlife species on public land. ATCWs include strict conditions to ensure wildlife are controlled humanely. ATCWs issued during this period may not have been acted on immediately, as they are typically issued for one year. Records of the species and numbers actually controlled during that period will generally be held by the agency that is responsible for undertaking the wildlife control.  

NOTE: After nearly a year of trying to get the species and numbers data we are still trying.

So which Australian species are on the Victoria Government kill list?

As of 25/02/2020: 88 Australian species in Victoria were subject to control by shooting, a subset of those species (22) were further subject to control by trapping or gassing, again a subset of those on the shoot list were also subject to control by trapping and shooting, a further subset of species (12) were subject to control by destruction of eggs and nests.

“So an ATCW permit holder in Victoria can shoot Australian Fur Seals or Pacific Herons, trap and gas Brown Antechinus or destroy the nest (and presumably the young) of a Black Swan.

All this represents suffering and cruelty at enormous scale. Not one is likely to be supervised”

— Peter Hylands, 2020

The list and number of wildlife to be ‘controlled’ in Victoria are greater than those shown above (which are all on the kill list). It should be noted that within the government tables that provide this information there is an UNSPECIFIED category, which according to the environment department, means ‘scare’. While the UNSPECIFIED category has been applied as an alternative in the government table and to many of the species above, there is little evidence, and the department has not been able to provide any, that ‘scaring’ is an option that is much used for those species listed above (flying foxes and a couple of bird species aside). The bullet is by far the most favoured method of ‘control’.

2019–20 Summer fires

Australia’s greatest fires in living memory, along with the death of billions of animals, had little or no impact on Victorian Governments’ attitudes to wildlife. In most cases the killing continued, commercial native wildlife activity was halted for a few days upon request but secretly reinstated, literally within days of the ban.

The duck shooting season, albeit modified, was held in 2020. Bird killing activities, including use of ATCWs and hunting accounted for around five million birds in the last decade or so. The Victorian Government continues its grievous assault on Australia’s birdlife despite a near 90 percent fall in waterbird populations over the last four decades. The commercial trade in Kangaroos in Victoria has commenced in most regions so badly impacted by fire just a few months ago. The justification for this most recent crime — a desktop study by a Victorian Government agency.

“The 2011 and 2012 Duck and Quail seasons in Victoria accounting for an eye watering 1,917,137 bird deaths, many of these deaths occurring on Ramsar sites (signposted game reserves in Victoria NOT Ramsar sites). 2011–12 season estimates from GMA converted calendar year higher estimates from the two-monthly surveys.” — Peter Hylands, 2020

All signs are that the 2021 waterbird shooting season will commence in March, amid of course claims of exploding bird populations. There is only one way to put this — it is, and will be, a lie.

After a vast amount was donated for the rescue and rehabilitation of native wildlife in Victoria and elsewhere and significant government funds were allocated to help in the task the Victorian Government and its environment department rescues just 270 animals from public lands in Victoria (including state and national parks) blocking the rescue efforts of specialists and volunteers. 75 percent of those animals rescued from public lands were Koalas, an act of window dressing at best.

Despite the fires, the pandemic, the suffering and other climate change impacts, the Victorian Government continues to promote and enable its wildlife killing schemes. The double standards applied are evident given the difficulty in finding out critical information if you are trying to help animals, when compared to the ease for, and service provided to those doing or requesting the killing, here is just one example from the Victorian Government’s website:

Find harvesters to manage kangaroo populations on your property. This takes about 3 minutes. After you’ve given us this info, we will email you a list of authorised harvesters with quotas available for your zone. It’s then up to you to make direct contact with one or more to organise a time and date for harvest. There’s no charge for this service.

Perversely, we are charged for the information we request in trying to help animals, just as we did successfully for the Red Kangaroo in Victoria when it was saved from the petfood can and commercial exploitation. This was achieved by analysing and describing the considerable shortcomings in the government data on which the decisions are made.

Historical note

“So when Australian species have made that journey to the brink, many have gone over the edge, they become endangered, and then perhaps, if they are lucky, some attention and belated compassion is directed towards them. By then it is really too late.” Peter Hylands 2020

The Commercial trade in Kangaroos was banned by the Victorian Government after a trial in the early 1980s. These were the species on the commercial list at that time:

  1. Red-necked Wallaby, Macropus rufogriseus
  2. Black Wallaby or Swamp Wallaby Wallabia bicolor
  3. Western Grey Kangaroo, Macropus fuliginosus
  4. Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Macropus giganteus 
  5. Red Kangaroo, Macropus rufus.

For all species combined, the quota in 1982 was 33,000 animals.

A note on climate change in Australia

Australia’s target of a 26 percent reduction of 2005 Green House Gas (GHG) emission levels by 2030 is currently on track for only a genuine 7 percent reduction (that is, without previous target carry-over “credits” being considered) in 2030. Poor policies mean that there continues to be limited action in transport, existing buildings, industrial processes, wastes and agriculture National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (NGGI) sectors. The Climate Change Performance Index, used by Climate Change Tracker, found that the best performing countries are Sweden, Denmark and Morocco, and the worst performing are Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and the US. New Zealand was ranked 34 and Australia 53 of the 58 countries assessed. If Australian fossil fuel exports are embedded into emissions it is likely that Australia’s global share of emissions is somewhere in the region of 3.3 percent. Note: Latest GHG reduction figure for Australia provided by Graham Armstrong, Saturn Corporate Resources.

The Anthropogenic

So how did Victoria get to this place? We all know that COVID has exposed structural weaknesses in society, in the case of Victoria the spread of the virus in a potentially devastating second wave for all of Australia, described that process very clearly. The lack of accountability in relation to wildlife matters is also very evident, with ‘responsibility’ shared between various Victorian Government  departments and agencies and Ministers (clearly not an accident), which in the end means that no one is responsible for the cruelty and killing. As these departments grow, so does the destructive activity, as does the elaborate disinformation and justifications, including the rise of a kind of pseudo-science (at tax payers expense) designed specifically to justify every aspect of the behaviour.

I have asked Victoria’s Environment Minister what drives the killing of wildlife and the growing number of animals being targeted? Among the many questions not answered, this is just one. I will end by saying I have tried to set up a meeting with a Labor Party Environment Minister for six years without success (and I am currently the President of a long established and distinguished Australian wildlife organisation). The purpose of the meeting is to go through the issues and discuss the numbers of native animals being killed by the enabling practices of the Victorian Government. Clearly the public service in Victoria are very keen to keep Ministers away from people who deliver a different message to the one being peddled and conducted by the internal mechanisms of government. This is a dangerous road, in the case of COVID it has also proved dangerous for the Minister and public servants associated with the matter.

Peter Hylands, President AWPC
16 November 2020

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