Bureaucrats are no friends of the wildlife conservation movement
For over a century Australia has annually culled two to three million kangaroos (eastern and western greys, reds and wallaroos). If we hadn’t, our farmers would have been eaten out of house and home. The arrival of Europeans and the spread of farming and grazing ensured pastures, crops and dams aplenty. With few natural predators, the larger species of kangaroo not only survived but thrived, often in plague proportions. The smaller species (under five kilos) were devastated by land clearing, foxes and cats, and a number became extinct or endangered.
As federal environment minister between 1983 and 1987, I had the unenviable task of announcing the annual cull quota. The figures were arrived at by scientists who carried out surveys influenced by the annual cull, road kill, yobbos killing for ‘sport’ and natural causes. The announcement brought the usual vitriol from the anti-cullers, who, without expertise or scientific background, made baseless allegations including the absurd claim that the scientists, many of whom were professors, were in the pay of the ‘kangaroo industry’. They alleged that the culled kangaroos were endangered and under threat of extinction.
They spread their lies worldwide, resulting in regular visits from conservationists and parliamentarians who found evidence that the population of the culled species ranged from 20 to 30 million. They were staggered when they found out that kangaroos were among the most abundant wildlife species in the world.
Each of the fanatical groups disappeared as they were revealed to be phonies, only to be replaced by similar groups. The latest two are THINKK and VOICELESS.
As always, the new groups were given widespread coverage by an ill-informed media who knew it would produce shock horror headlines. Australians recognised this nonsense because whenever they visited the bush they saw hordes of kangaroos — dead and alive.
How do they get away with such lies? Mainly because of the loose use of the term ‘kangaroo’. There are 51 species of kangaroos (macropods), ranging in size from the musky-rat kangaroo (under five kilos) to the red kangaroo (60 to 80 kilos). Six species are extinct, 13 vulnerable, 25 secure and seven endangered.
Unfortunately, the media ignore the genuinely endangered macropods — the long-footed potoroo, brush-tailed bettong, bridled nailtail wallaby, proserpine rock-wallaby, brush-tailed rock-wallaby, yellow-footed rock-wallaby and parma wallaby, whose numbers are down to the hundreds. If the anti-cull group were genuine about their concern for ‘endangered’ kangaroos they would be demanding that maximum resources be devoted to ensuring their numbers increased rather than worrying about species that are often in plague proportions.
What should Australia do to halt the diminution of our genuinely endangered species?
Too many mammals, amphibians, birds, reptiles et al fall into this category, but anyone who has been involved in trying to do something to help will be well aware of the obstacles placed in their way by state governments.
It’s difficult to establish a commercial zoo, sanctuary or wilderness area, but if you want to breed endangered species at your own expense the obstacles are crippling.
Why do state governments make things so difficult? Because they consider that they alone know how best to conserve our wildlife and resent anyone interfering in their bailiwick. They are also concerned that ‘artificial’ breeding of species will interfere with nature and risk widespread hybridisation. They are control freaks. And they are purists who believe animals should remain in their natural habitat, and that if they should become extinct that’s just nature taking its course. Unfortunately, since Europeans arrived with cattle, sheep, horses, rabbits, foxes, cats, dogs and crops, Australia has changed dramatically.
Many Australians realise what has happened and want to do something about it. Many want to keep native wildlife as pets and want to specialise in breeding endangered species, at their own expense. But they are shocked to find that while the regulations vary from state to state, with NSW and Queensland being the toughest, the bureaucrats thrive on denying them the right to do so. Oddly enough the Northern Territory is seen as the most progressive state. Elsewhere, permits to keep native wildlife are extremely difficult to obtain. At the same time, the authorities allow foxes, cats and dogs, which kill the endangered species, to run wild.
My youngest son, Adam, and I devoted 15 years of our lives and every cent I had to designing, building and managing an 80-hectare wildlife sanctuary on the NSW Central Coast. Finally I decided I could no longer endure the endless red tape that made the task so difficult. Let me recount one experience.
Prior to building an unnecessary vet’s clinic, demanded by the NSW government, an officer of the local council arrived to inform me that before permission was granted I had to pass the ten-point checklist.
‘It’s to ensure that the project is environmentally sound.’
‘Do you have any endangered species on your land?’
‘I hope so.’
She visibly paled. ‘If you do I’ll have to close you down.’
‘We haven’t opened yet,’ I told her. ‘But that’s why we built the sanctuary, to protect and breed endangered wildlife.’ Finally she realised how silly she sounded. We were allowed to proceed, particularly after I asked her what steps Gosford Council was taking to protect native wildlife on the hundreds of thousands of acres for which it was responsible.
Governments should look again at their conservation policies. Anyone wanting to keep native wildlife should provide evidence that they have adequate space in which to hold them and the knowledge to care for them. They should expect regular visits from officers of the NPWS to see they are honouring their obligations. They should also realise that the small species will only survive if they are sheltered behind feral animal-proof fences. We can’t fence the whole country, but we can fence selected areas. They can use my former sanctuary as their model. Bob Carr declared more national parks than his predecessors, but unfortunately foxes and cats can’t read.
There are vast numbers of Australians who care passionately about our wild animals and want to see them survive and thrive. Government should encourage them instead of trying to block them.