Napthine Government neglects duck hunting responsibilities

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Coalition Against Duck Shooting Campaign Director Laurie Levy writes that when it comes to duck hunting, Victorian Premier – and former veterinarian Denis Napthine severely lacks compassion for animals.

Rescuers examine a duck at Lake Bael Bael.

SO HOW DOES an ex-country veterinarian go on to become the state’s worst legal animal abuser?

Most likely around the time he joins the Liberal Party, and advance to become Victorian Premier.

Surely, a former veterinarian would understand the shocking pain and suffering native waterbirds are forced to endure? Just so a dwindling number of duck shooters who make up only 0.4 per cent of Victoria’s population can get their kicks.

On the opening day of the 2013 recreational duck shooting season, the Victorian Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh issued a media release praising duck shooters on their good behaviour.

However, by early Monday morning, the minister’s media release was blown out of the water with news of a shocking massacre of native waterbirds. It had taken place on the opening morning near Boort in northwest Victoria. It was in Minister Walsh’s own electorate.

According to information given to the Coalition Against Duck Shooting, around 150 mainly local shooters were present on the Box Flat Nature Reserve, a floodplain near Boort, during the mass illegal slaughter of some 2,000 birds. This included over 200 rare Freckled Ducks and other threatened and protected species.

Keep in mind Freckled Ducks are unique to Australia and regarded as one of the 10 rarest waterbirds in the world.

We had been tipped off about the massacre. We then released the information to the media to ensure the atrocity couldn’t be covered up. Minister Walsh had no choice but to establish an investigation.

At the time of writing, some three months later, not a single shooter has been charged as a result of this inquiry.

Just how serious is the government investigation?

The following weekend after the slaughter – five days after the investigation began – we sent a small team of seven rescuers to the Box Flat floodplain. After two hours the rescuers had retrieved 40 dead Freckled Ducks from the water, along with many other protected species.  The question that needs to be asked is, how could supposedly experienced investigators have missed this vital evidence?

Freckled Ducks illegally shot at Box Flat Nature Reserve.

As reported in The Age by investigative journalist Melissa Fyfe , it has now been established that a similar massacre of native waterbirds took place on this floodplain during the 2012 opening. It was successfully hushed up.

This year, rare and threatened Freckled Ducks had sought refuge in Victoria after inland waters had dried out. Yet surprisingly, the Napthine Government failed to close off wetlands to shooters where there were significant numbers of these rare ducks.

 As a result, hundreds were illegally shot by duck shooters right across the state, from the opening weekend through to the closing weekend of the three-month duck shooting season.

This year’s slaughter highlights the failure of the government’s compulsory Waterfowl Identification Test — introduced in 1990 in an attempt to stop Freckled Ducks from being illegally shot.

It also highlights just how impotent and dysfunctional Minister Walsh’s Game Victoria is at being able to protect endangered, threatened and protected species.

It further exposes the unacceptable, serious conflict of interest Game Victoria compliance officers and staff have. Most are duck shooters themselves and members of duck shooting organisations.

What happened this year makes a complete mockery of the decision by Minister Peter Walsh to encourage 12-year-old children to take up duck shooting by exempting them from the need to sit the compulsory Waterfowl Identification Test.

This is a desperate attempt by the minister to boost the dwindling numbers of duck shooters to save this outdated and violent activity.

Recreational duck shooting remains an uncontrolled slaughter of native waterbirds.  Without our duck rescuers, there is no-one else out on the state’s wetlands helping wounded waterbirds.

Despite three years of tough court cases, which were meant to frighten duck rescuers off the wetlands, a strong team of over 120 volunteers stepped up to help native waterbirds in 2013. They were undeterred by the Napthine Government’s intimidation and heavy handed tactics.

An injured Blue-billed Duck.

Despite a very low number of duck shooters, the damage they did to native waterbirds is staggering. Rescuers recovered 723 dead and wounded birds from just a handful of Victoria’s 20,000 or so wetlands. These included 394 illegally shot protected species (107 Freckled Ducks), 219 dead game species and 110 wounded birds which were taken to veterinarians and wildlife carers.

Government figures estimate that around 500,000 birds are shot each year.  It is now accepted that at least one in four shot birds are severely wounded. This means there are tens of thousands of wounded birds left on the wetlands which will never be rescued.

It only takes a shooter a split second to pull the shotgun trigger, but this results in unimaginable pain and suffering for waterbirds. Birds that are retrieved by rescuers receive hours, days and weeks of care by volunteer veterinarians and wildlife carers (including x-rays and operations), rehabilitation and finally release for the lucky ones.

On the final weekend of the duck shooting season, the Lort Smith Animal Hospital, Melbourne Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary were all involved in the treatment of two illegally shot and wounded Freckled Ducks and a wounded Teal (a so-called game species).

One Freckled Duck was euthanased because of its injuries. Another, which had four pellets lodged in muscle tissue, survived and was successfully released at the wetland it was rescued from (see photographs). The suffering, care and release of this beautiful bird was recorded by a television camera crew. At the time of writing the wounded Teal is still receiving treatment.

We still have a big job ahead of us. The Napthine Government has recently allocated $8.2 million of taxpayers’ money out of this year’s budget to set up a new authority based on the NSW Game Council and the New Zealand model.

The authority will be independent of government but run by duck shooters for duck shooters. In total, $17.6 million of Victorian taxpayers’ money will go toward hunting in general.

All this at a time when the state’s essential life-saving services are having their budgets cut. Ambos and firefighters have been forced to demonstrate on the steps of Parliament House for more funding to help save the lives of Victorians.

It’s time that the Napthine government reviewed its priorities and how it spends - or wastes - taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.

Premier Napthine should immediately revoke the taxpayer funding given to duck shooters and allocate the money to the state’s essential services.

I’m sure all Victorians would applaud such a move.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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