Shooting Down Our Precious Assets
Purple Swamphen and chick, picture Eleanor Dilley
With 866,000 domestic birdwatching tourists nationally (Tourism Research Australia, National Visitor Survey year ending December 2019), our rural communities have a true economic opportunity. Many Victorian wetlands are home to native waterbirds unique to Australia.
However studies show most holiday makers avoid shooting areas (The Australia Institute). Further, that duck shooting is killing off our precious assets.
Documents obtained by RVOTDS through Freedom of Information show little if any data has been collected by GMA concerning the impact of duck shooting on protected species. However in contrast, previous government authorities documented and reported this as per the following example.
Table of protected species found dead around duck shooting waterways by Dept of Conservation and Natural Resources and the public. (Note this data is from a handful of duck shooting waterways which were monitored. It is likely the real number of protected species killed is far larger.)
Given duck shooters only sit the Waterbird Identification Test (WIT) once, It is likely many of todays duck shooters did so years ago. Duck shooters' serious knowledge gaps published recently, highlight the problem.
In their six years of operation, little has been done by GMA to quantify or minimise the impact of duck shooting on protected species. In fact neither GMA, nor DELWP have been able to list, map or even estimate the number of Victorian waterways where native waterbird shooting is allowed. Previous governments put it at around 15,000 - a number at which even the army could not monitor what is being shot.
According to GMA figures, more than 4,000,000 birds have been shot by duck shooters in twelve years with an average of almost 350,000 native ducks killed each year. This number does not include the significant numbers of birds found by members of the public each year which have been shot and left behind.
The GMA has acknowledged that with the exception of 2016, duck breeding has been suppressed since the end of the millennium drought. Given the average lifespan of game ducks is about four years, it's no wonder that populations have crashed.
Table below taken from data from Centre for Ecosystem Decline University NSW, East Australia Aerial Waterbird Survey reports.
There is a Parliamentary Inquiry into Victoria's Ecosystem Decline for a reason.
With all waterbird indices in significant long term decline and well below long-term averages despite rain, it is clear the regulator must recommend a season close if sustainability is at all their concern. Further, Victoria must follow the lead of other states and ban duck shooting.
We cannot easily reverse a warming climate, or avoid the likelihood of more frequent and longer droughts and fire seasons. What we can change with the stroke of a pen, are the additional man-made threats such as recreational bird shooting, or we will have to take responsibility for aiding and hastening a catastrophic downturn of waterbird species.
It is often falsely believed that birds will simply ‘bounce back’—there are biological limits to this bouncing back because of the limited opportunities and options that birds have themselves. Moreover, many successful breeding pairs will have become victims of past fire and drought catastrophes themselves and inexperienced birds may not have had time to acquire partners. Bearing in mind, that at the best of times only 25% of any avian species ever breeds in a given year, it is predictable that the number of breeding events will decline this year. It can thus be expected that breeding success of the surviving birds will diminish, even if conditions should remain reasonably good.
When a human catastrophe occurs, as earthquakes for instance, we offer help and seek out survivors and return them to their families. What we do with birds is the exact opposite. After the disasters, as if birds did not have enough stresses, we seek out the survivors to shoot them and we do so not because of a basic need for survival but just for fun. It is scandalous to allow any shooting season this year and it is particularly puzzling that the shooting season of waterfowl allows, tolerates or turns a blind eye to the shooting even of vulnerable and endangered species.
It has long been recognised that the ethical standards and humanity of a society can be judged best by how it treats its lowest members and animals, be these birds or other wildlife. It may need remembering too that native birds have a role to play in maintaining a healthy Australian ecosystem, healthy waterways and in control of pests (be these of flora or fauna). I would like to see shooters shoot clay pigeons as accomplished sportsmen and women, not as self-appointed executioners of native wildlife. Gisela Kaplan Em. Prof. Gisela Kaplan, Prof. of Animal Behaviour, PhD (Vet.Sc)