SUBMISSION TO THE HONORABLE EVAN WALKER,M.L.C
SUBMISSION TO THE HONORABLE EVAN WALKER,M.L.C
By P.A. RAWLINSON
The following document is a faithful reproduction of the original 1982 document that convinced the then Victorian Minister for Conservation, the Honorable Mr Evan Walker, to stop the Commercial Harvesting of kangaroos.
Australian Wildlife Protection Council
“Even though we don’t have a Commercial Kangaroo Quota in Victoria, the Kangaroo Industry is very much alive in Victoria.”
AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE PROTECTION COUNCIL
DETAILED SUBMISSION ON THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS
TO THE HONORABLE EVAN WALKER, M.L.C.,
MINISTER FOR CONSERVATION
BY P.A. RAWLINSON, 30TH. SEPTEMBER, 1982.
WILDLIFE AND THE VICTORIAN WILDLIFE ACT 1975.
“Wild” means in the original state, not domesticated or cultivated. Thus wildlife species are those living in an undomesticated or uncultivated state. The Wildlife Act 1975 defines “wildlife” in part as (Section 3 (1) ) :
“Any animal of a vertebrate species other than mankind which is indigenous to the whole or part or parts of Australia or its territories …”
This definition encompasses all Australian macropod or “kangaroo” species and automatically grants them status as “Protected Wildlife” under Section 3 (1).
Section 3 (4) of the Wildlife Act 1975 extends references to wildlife to include:
” … wildlife in any form, whether alive or dead and whether the flesh is raw or cooked or preserved in any manner whatsoever and includes the skin, pelage, fur or any other part thereof …”
Thus the Act also automatically grants the skins and meat of kangaroos status as “Protected Wildlife”.
The Wildlife Act 1975 is listed under Part I of the Schedule of the Ministry for Conservation Act 1972. As a consequence, the Wildlife Act must achieve the objects of the Ministry for Conservation Act and therefore the Minister has mandatory duties to (Section 5 (1) ) :
“(d) … promote the protection and proper management of the wildlife … of Victoria;”.
“(e) … protect and maintain the habitats of the wildlife … of Victoria;”.
Thus it is clear that the Minister for Conservation has the duty to protect kangaroos and control commercial exploitation. It is my concern that current practices pose a real threat to kangaroo populations. I present arguments below to support this contention and recommend courses of action to the Minister to overcome these threats.
COMMERCIALIZATION OF WILDLIFE.
The basis of Charles Darwin’s principle of natural selection is that all species produce a surplus of offspring in each generation. In agriculture we select a set number of provide the next crop and harvest the surplus – a process Darwin called “artificial selection”. For wildlife species, natural factors kill off the less fit individuals and only the fittest survive to produce the next generation. This is the process Darwin called “natural selection”.
To emphasize the point on reproductive potential, Darwin estimated that elephants don’t start breeding until 30 years old and each female produces only six offspring in a lifetime, yet if all the offspring of a single pair could survive and reproduce there would be 15 million elephants alive after 500 years. Harvesting of wildlife species seeks to utilize the “excess” offspring in each generation rather than letting natural forces select the fittest.
In the case of kangaroos, selective shooting replaces drought stress, food shortages etc. This is the fundamental scientific objection to the commercialization of wildlife, natural selection is replaced by artificial selection and the wildlife status of the species is changed.
COMMERCIALIZATION OF KANGAROOS
Kangaroos occupy a unique place in the public appreciation of wildlife. They are the largest native Australian mammals and D. W. E. Poole stated in his 1977 CONCOM Report “Management of Kangaroo Harvesting in Australia (A.N.P. & W.L.S., 1977) :
” … kangaroos are possibly the best known of our fauna, and hence for many Australians ‘wildlife’ means kangaroos and ‘wildlife conservation’ means preserving kangaroos.”
Dr. Poole is undoubtedly correct and in a very real sense uncritical acceptance of kangaroo killing for commercial gain will make it difficult or impossible to prevent the same happening to other wildlife species.
Although kangaroos enjoy the general status of “Protected Wildlife”, the Wildlife (General) Regulations 1980 actually set a wildlife trappers and controllers royalty of $5-00 per specimen for species from the genera Macropus and Thylogale.
Recommendation 1: The Minister removes mention of specimens of the genera Macropus and Thylogale from Schedule 12 of the Wildlife (General) Regulations as one step in the de-commercialization of kangaroos in Victoria.
STATUS OF PESTS AND VERMIN.
Species whose presence and abundance appears to conflict with human interest are labelled as “pests” or “vermin”. This subjective classification has serious management implications as it changes the perceived status of the species. If the labelling becomes official, for example by proclamation under the Vermin and Noxious Weeds Act 1958, the legal status of the species also changes. Exemption clauses in the Wildlife Act 1975 and the Protection of Animals Act 1966 to facilitate vermin eradication and pest control illustrate this point.
Although kangaroos have not been proclaimed as vermin or pests since the Wildlife Act was passed in 1975, the defacto Victorian kangaroo management program practised over the last two decades is actually based on pest control in agricultural areas (see below, exploitation of Section 5).
KANGAROOS AS PESTS AND VERMIN.
The conventional wisdom on kangaroos is that they benefit from conversion of natural vegetation to agricultural land use and their numbers increase as a consequence. As kangaroos are thought to compete with stock for food, destroy crops etc., they are generally seen as agricultural pests. So entrenched is this view that a substantial chapter on kangaroos was included in the recent C.S.I.R.O. book “The Ecology of Pests: Some Australian Case Histories” (Kitching and Jones, 1981), although the article was mainly devoted to commercial harvesting.
The idea of kangaroos as almost inevitable pests on agricultural lands is now under challenge. A chapter by Dr. M. Denny in the recently released New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service book “Kangaroos and other Macropods of New South Wales” (N.S.W. N.P.&W.L.S., 1982) has shown that examination of historical records generally indicates reductions and losses of kangaroos from agricultural areas – not increases as is commonly stated.
Even more importantly, a recent C.S.I.R.O. aerial survey of kangaroos in western Victoria and south-eastern South Australia by Drs. J. Short and G. Grigg published under the title “The Abundance of Kangaroos in Suboptimal Habitats: Wheat, Intensive Pastoral and Mallee.” (Australian Wildlife Research, 1982, Volume 9 : 221-27) revealed low densities of kangaroos and the authors concluded:
“The density of grey kangaroos in western Victoria and south-eastern South Australia is only 15% of that recorded for the pastoral zone of New South Wales… Such low densities appear to reflect the effect of intensive land use and the marginal nature for kangaroos of the remaining areas of natural vegetation.”
A study of the Tasmanian grey forester kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) by Dr. G. Coulson published in the University of Tasmania book “Exploited and Endangered Wildlife” (Centre for Environmental Studies, 1981) reaches the same conclusion. Coulson found that pastoral activity and shooting have reduced the once common and widespread species to two limited areas containing a total population of only about 6,000 individuals. Although the species is now endangered in Tasmania, in 1978 landholders stopped a successful re-introduction program being operated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Thus kangaroos are actually directly threatened by intensive agricultural land use in south-eastern Australia and pest status is a transient phase at best.
THE LEGAL STATUS OF KANGAROOS IN VICTORIA.
WILDLIFE ACT 1975.
It has already been pointed out that under the Wildlife Act 1975 kangaroos automatically have the status of Protected Wildlife, however, this can change. The legal conservation status of a species increases if it is proclaimed:
(a) “Endangered Wildlife” under Section 41, and this has basically been done for all macropod species on the CONCOM endangered species list.
(b) “Notable Wildlife” under Section 42, and this has basically been done for all Victorian Potorinae and the brush-tailed rock wallaby Petrogale penicillata.
The legal conservation status of a species can decrease if under Section 3 (1) it is proclaimed:
(a) “Unprotected Wildlife”; “Controlled Wildlife”; a “Game Species” or;
(b) “Noxious Wildlife” under the Vermin and Noxious Weeds Act 1958.
No macropod species has been proclaimed under any of these categories.
In special cases the minister can waive the protected wildlife status of kangaroos by giving written permission to individuals:
(a) For scientific research purposes under Section 4.
(b) For wildlife destruction under Section 5.
A few permits are granted under Section 4, but this is a very limited waiver of the protected wildlife status of kangaroos. However many permits are granted under Section 5 and large numbers of kangaroos are involved – about 24,000 in 1982. This has now become a very large scale waiver of the protected status of kangaroos and can be construed as a gross misuse of the Victorian Wildlife Act.
Use of Section 5 is actually the defacto Victorian kangaroo management program for agricultural lands and forms the legal basis of the Victorian kangaroo industry.
It must be emphasized that as the Minister for Conservation must personally authorize every permit to kill kangaroos under Section 5, he and he alone bears the full responsibility.
Thus the kangaroo industry has been allowed to develop in Victoria without scientific assessment of populations, an environmental effects statement or public debate. This appalling situation has developed as a direct result of the actions of previous Ministers for Conservation under Section 5 of the Act.
Recommendation 2: The Minister takes immediate action to stop abuse of Section 5
of the Wildlife Act 1975 which facilitates the commercialization
of kangaroos and supports the kangaroo industry in Victoria.
ABBATOIR AND MEAT INSPECTION ACT 1973.
Recently a kangaroo game meat industry has developed in Victoria. This appears to be illegal under the Wildlife Act 1975 as kangaroos have never been proclaimed as “Game Species” under Section 3.
However, the Abattoir and Meat Inspection Act 1973 includes the following definition under Section 33 of the provisions for licensing knackeries and pet food establishments:
“Game includes deer, rabbits, hares, pigs, goats and kangaroos living in a wild state and any other animals which the Minister (for Agriculture) may declare to be ‘game’ for the purposes of this Act.”
This legal loophole appears to be the basis for the new kangaroo game meat industry.
Recommendation 3: The Minister consult with the Minister for Agriculture and request that action be taken to have the word ‘kangaroos’ deleted from the definition of “Game” under Section 33 of the Abattoir and Meat Inspection Act 1973 so that it does not facilitate a kangaroo game meat industry in conflict with the Wildlife Act 1975.
CONSERVATION STATUS OF KANGAROOS IN VICTORIA.
The Ministry for Conservation has never directly monitored kangaroo populations. Traditionally, the number and distribution of permits issued for kangaroo destruction on agricultural lands have formed the basis of indirect species monitoring. This was first made clear publicly by Mr. K. Dempster in an article entitled “Kangaroos: Management in Victorian Agricultural Areas” published in 1961 (The Journal of Agriculture, Victoria. January 1961, Volume 59 Part (1): 49-52). Dr. W. Poole reiterated the policy in his 1977 CONCOM Report “Management of Kangaroo Harvesting in Australia” referred to above.
In the light of this situation it is distressing to learn that the Victorian annual commercial kangaroo kill quotas of 30,000 provided to CONCOM for 1981 and 1982 were actually based on anticipated applications for kangaroo destruction permits under Section 5 of the Wildlife Act for those years. That is, the quotas essentially anticipated the Ministers direct authorisation for wildlife destruction permits in advance.
The recent C.S.I.R.O. aerial survey of kangaroos in western Victoria (discussed above, Short & Grigg, 1982, Aust. Wildl. Res. 9 : 221-27) surveyed virtually all the habitat of the red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) and the western grey kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus) in the state.
This survey revealed a surprisingly low total number and density of kangaroos in western Victoria which, as discussed above (see quote) the authors directly attributed to the effects of intensive land use and the marginal nature of remnant vegetation. Such an authoritative and extensive study contradicts the current hysteria sweeping western Victorian farming communities of plagues of kangaroos moving from crown lands onto farmlands.
More importantly, however, the C.S.I.R.O. study questions the whole basis of kangaroo management and commercialization in Victoria with its keystone principle of agricultural wildlife destruction permits issued under Section 5 of the Wildlife Act 1975. It must be emphasized again that the defacto system of gathering “data” for assessing kangaroo populations and setting commercial kill “quotas” in Victoria using permits issued under Section 5 very actively but covertly involves the Minister.
Recommendation 4: The Minister immediately abolishes the arbitrary Victorian commercial
kill quota of 30,000 kangaroos and restores the pre-1980 situation where Victoria refuses to participate in the public relations exercise of setting kangaroo kill quotas.
CULLING OF KANGAROOS.
“Culling” is normally defined as the removal of inferior, old or non-breeding animals from a population. This practice can be regarded as analogous to natural selection as the animals removed are non-reproductive. Hence genuine culling is compatible with preserving the wildlife status of a species.
Apologists for the current widespread killing of kangaroos loosely use “culling” as an explanation of the practice. Similarly propagandists for the kangaroo industry use “culling” as a justification for their actions. The need to cull has been uncritically accepted by the community as a scientific principle and some people wishing to express a balanced view on kangaroos use the term constantly.
Professional kangaroo shooters, however, make no attempt to cull less fit animals, in fact to do so would destroy their markets. Similarly, farmers taking action against “pests” often select out reproductive females and young to reduce the reproductive potential of the population. Such actions contradict a basic principle of wildlife management and cannot be regarded as “culling”.
THE NATIONAL KANGAROO MANAGEMENT PROGRAM.
CONCOM accepted a “National kangaroo Management Program” submitted by a working group to control commercial exploitation at its 10th Meeting in Madang on 1st July 1981 (Resolution 145). Victoria was represented on the working group and was actively involved in drawing up the program. Implementation of the program involves five major steps:
1. Classification of land use and habitat within the range of the commercially harvested species. In Victoria this would include the following species:
Red kangaroo Macropus rufus
Eastern grey kangaroo Macropus giganteus
Western grey kangaroo Macropus fuliginosus
Bennett’s wallaby Macropus rufogriseus
Swamp wallaby Wallabia bicolor
2. Significance of reserves for commercially harvested kangaroos by species.
For the Australian mainland reserves are restricted to areas of public land with an area greater than 5,000 hectares.
3. Population assessment program.
Regular assessment of population trends including total numbers, sex and age ratio trends.
4. Determination of harvesting levels.
Annual commercial quotas to be set based on actual population size and
population trends, trends in land use, seasonal conditions etc.
5. Management procedures.
These recognise that State and Territory laws control the harvesting of species but Commonwealth laws control exports of products. They also require that all States and Territories have areas where commercial harvesting is not permitted and that commercial harvesting is strictly controlled by the relevant fauna authorities.
The strict controls referred to under “Management Procedures” include seven mandatory requirements:
(a) All operators and premises in the kangaroo industry are licensed or registered, their activities supervised and premises inspected regularly;
(b) no animal is taken without permission of the fauna authority. In granting permission, species, number of animals to be taken, area and period of operation are specified;
(c) complete details of kangaroos taken are supplied by shooters and dealers such that adequate checking against permits may be undertaken; and
(d) kangaroos taken are recorded on an appropriate area basis;
(e) a mandatory tagging system exists which is standardized within each state;
(f) an import-export system is linked directly to the tags such that approval from the state of import is required before an export permit is issued;
(g) a species will not be harvested by a shooter if its density in a shooters operating area falls below 1.0 per square kilometre in mainland regions. As this would be extraordinarily low in Tasmania, a higher figure is applicable in that state.
Although Victoria was involved in drawing up the National Kangaroo Management Program, no serious effort has been made to meet the seven control requirements of the Management Procedures. Two of the requirements, (e) and (g), are blatantly ignored.
Requirement (e) covers mandatory tagging of harvested kangaroos. The Victorian Fisheries and Wildlife Division is being severely and openly criticised by other State and Commonwealth authorities for refusing to tag kangaroo carcasses. These authorities claim that the situation has led directly to Victoria becoming the centre for processing illegally harvested kangaroos.
Requirement (g) suggests that as a rule of thumb, shooting should cease when kangaroo densities fall below 1.0 per square kilometre. The C.S.I.R.O. survey of western Victoria discussed above (Short & Grigg, 1982, Aust. Wildl. Res. 9 : 221-27) covered 100,000 km2 and revealed:
1. The mean kangaroo density was 0.39 kangaroos per km2.
2. Kangaroo densities below 0.01 per km2 for 32% of the area.
3. Kangaroo densities below 1.00 per km2 for 85% of the area.
4. Only one 10,000 km2 block of 10 examined with a density above 1.0 per km2.
This block, centered on the Hattah-Kulkyne region, had a density of 2.39 kangaroos, however 40% of the kangaroos counted were in the Hattah-Kulkyne Park system where shooting is prohibited and 50% of the block was actually located in New South Wales.
Thus Victoria cannot meet most of the requirements of the National Kangaroo Management Program and commercial shooting should cease.
Recommendation 5: As Victoria cannot meet the requirements of the National Kangaroo Management Program, the Minister should immediately stop the commercial harvesting of kangaroos in the State and withdraw from the National Kangaroo Management Program.
Recommendation 5: If the commercial harvesting of kangaroos is to proceed in Victoria, the Minister should fully implement the conditions, procedures and requirements of the National Kangaroo Management Program.
THE NATIONAL KANGAROO KILL QUOTA.
At the 10th CONCOM meeting on 1st July 1981, the concept of a national kangaroo kill “Quota” was accepted as part of the National Kangaroo Management Program. The term “Quota” was defined as:
“The number of the designated species of macropod which may enter the commercial trade per calendar year after having been taken by a licensed shooter in accordance with an approved State Management Program.”
Quota has become a watershed term, casting an aura of authority and respectability over the kangaroo industry. CONCOM, however, was told at the 10th Meeting that in 1979 the acknowledged total Australian kangaroo harvest was 3,321,275 – 20% above the official national quota of 2,769,000 set for the year. The CONCOM figures revealed that in 1979 Tasmania harvested 1,113,628 kangaroos, 271% higher than the State’s official quota of 300,000 for the year.
Further doubt is cast on the concept of “quotas” when individual States are examined. For example, in the 1977 CONCOM Report “Management of Kangaroo Harvesting in Australia” (A.N.P. & W.L.S., 1977) Dr. W. Poole made the following unequivocal comment about the South Australian management program (p. 17):
“Regardless of the number (of kangaroos) present (in the area where commercial harvesting is permitted) an upper limit of 80,000 for the whole State is imposed, but this is not set as a target to be achieved and may not be reached.”
By 1981 the South Australian “quota” was 250,000 and for 1982 the “quota” has been raised to 400,000 – 400% higher than Dr. Poole’s 1977 figure.
The misleading nature of quotas becomes obvious when the extent of illegal killing is realized. Bureau of Census and Statistics figures show that in 1981 the kangaroo industry processed meat and skins from a minimum of 2,550,000 kangaroos. For that year the national “quota” was 3,032,000 but the official legal harvest was only 1,594,214. Thus the official national “quota” covered up and legitimized an apparent illegal commercial harvest of close to one million kangaroos in that year. This reinforces Recommendation 4. (above).
THE KANGAROO INDUSTRY.
The industry first developed to market skins in the 1950s, then shifted to large scale production of pet meat in the 1960s. Following amendments to Regulation 4 of the Commonwealth Exports (Meat) Regulations in March 1981, an export kangaroo game meat market has recently been established.
In 1971 the House of Representatives Report “Conservation and Commercial Exploitation of Kangaroos” (A.G.P.S., 1971) noted that for the years 1965-66 to 1970-71, kangaroo meat comprised less than 1% of Australian meat exports by weight. Currently about 1,800,000 kilograms are exported annually which is only about 0.15% by weight of Australian meat exports. Thus kangaroo meat is not of great significance as an export.
The discovery of kangaroo meat in export beef in 1981, however, had a severe adverse effect on Australia’s meat exports. The recently released “Report of the Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry” (Woodward, 1982) documents the events and their effects. It is fair to say that the major effect of the kangaroo meat industry on exports in recent times has been highly deleterious.
Justice Woodward discusses the Victorian Meat Industry in Chapter 38 of the Report of the Royal Commission. He points out that the meat industry is economically very important to Victoria and that most Victorian abattoirs are registered for export. As a consequence, export meat is of vital importance to the Victorian economy. The 1980-81 kangaroo meat malpractices not only badly affected meat exports, but also threatened future markets.
The Report of the Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry adds another strong argument for Victoria to immediately abandon the kangaroo industry, it is small and our export meat markets are too important to threaten. Cessation of commercial harvesting in Victoria would be well received by our major overseas meat customers.
COMMERCIAL KANGAROO SHOOTING AND CRUELTY.
Professional kangaroo shooters must continually exploit populations to make a living and each shooter aims to kill at least 30 kangaroos per night to make operations economically viable. On this basis, a full-time shooter kills at least 7,500 kangaroos each year.
In droughts when kangaroo numbers decline severely and populations are in their most vulnerable state, commercial shooters must continue heavy killing or face the prospect of bankruptcy.
Kangaroo shooters aim to kill and process as many kangaroos as possible to maximize profits. Some shooters claim to kill up to 250 kangaroos in a night. In such circumstances, extensive suffering and cruelty are unavoidable. This is particularly true where orphaned joeys are involved.
Due to the decentralized nature of the industry, the aggressive nature of the shooters and the timid nature of the enforcement agencies, this cruelty goes largely unchecked. The Victorian R.S.P.C.A. has only secured one conviction for cruelty during kangaroo killing.
Where prosecutions are sought, the courts tend to be sympathetic to the accused. Even where small numbers of kangaroos are involved, cruelty seems inevitable. For example, in the Victorian case referred to above, the farmer involved justified killing one wounded kangaroo by running his car over it and roughly cutting the throat of another by explaining that he didn’t want to waste 38 cents on another bullet to stop the kangaroo’s suffering.
Extensive and uncontrollable cruelty to kangaroos is another compelling reason to ban commercial killing of kangaroos.
THE RIGHTS OF WILDLIFE SPECIES.
The final, and philosophically the most important, point to be made is that animals – especially wildlife species – have rights of their own to exist and flourish independently of human needs.
For this reason alone we should not regard kangaroos or other wildlife species as a human resource nor contemplate commercial exploitation simply because more offspring are born each generation than can hope to survive.
29th September, 1982.
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