AN avocet doesn’t look like a duck, nor does it quack like one. It’s an elegant, strikingly patterned black and white bird, with a reddish head, long, long legs (for wading in shallows) and a long, upturned needle for a bill.
A swan looks quite a bit more like a duck. It has a similarly flattened bill and, unlike an avocet, it prefers to swim rather than wade. But it’s bigger than a duck – much, much bigger – and besides, our swans, unique for being black, are among the best-known birds in Australia.
So it’s doubtful that identification issues were the problem for the 150 or so shooters that slaughtered these birds and many others on the opening weekend of duck season at a private property near Boort. If it were just endangered freckled ducks they’d shot (up to 200 of them) a cross-eyed shooter may have had that defence available — well, at least it’s a duck.
But the scale of the slaughter – and the collaterel damage – suggests otherwise, and points to the abysmal failure of self-regulation in this supposedly highly regulated pastime. Grebes and coots were blasted off the surface of the water. (So they were sitting ducks, at least.) The swans were probably obstructing the view of the ducks. The avocets? Well, who knows.
Exactly how many birds were killed? We don’t and won’t know the final answer, but the Departments of Environment and Primary Industries, and the police, pulled a staggering 915 waterfowl from this one wetland a couple of days after the opening weekend. Many would have taken a long time to die.
You could speculate that twice as many perished overall, but what no one is disputing is that this scandal – for it is a scandal – actually occurred.
It’s a significant embarrassment for Victorian deputy National Party leader Peter Walsh, himself born and bred in Boort, and in whose electorate this abomination occurred. Had it happened under the Bracks or Brumby governments, it’s entirely possible that the season would have been halted pending the results of an inquiry, and duck shooting in Victoria would certainly have been in grave peril. The pressure from Labor’s left would have been intolerable.
Walsh, however, is all but locked in. This State government has made much of the “tradition” of game hunting, emphasising that a couple of years of good rainfall has replenished waterholes and created ideal breeding conditions for waterfowl. Most contentiously, it has extended the season to 12 weeks.
Walsh has already promised that the hunt will go on, claiming that “the overwhelming majority of duck hunters” have done the right thing. That may be so; the problem is they have been discredited, fairly or otherwise, by the obnoxious behaviour of their kin.
At this point, it’s worth rehashing the three key aspects to ethical hunting, printed on the DPI website. The three aspects are knowing and respecting the game; obeying the law; and 'behaving in the right manner'.
Let’s deal with each of them in turn.
The hunters at Box Flat knew the game – at least, one would expect that they could reasonably distinguish a swan from a grebe from an avocet from a duck – but they certainly didn’t respect it. Leaving an injured bird to perish where it plummeted speaks to that.
Nor did they obey the law. Killing protected wildlife, exceeding bag limits, leaving behind waste — all these are criminal offences, punishable by heavy fines.
Laurie Levy with angry shooter, 1988, northwest Victoria. (Source CADS.)[/caption]
'Behaving in the right manner' is the most interesting one.
It says this:
Hunter behaviour has a direct impact on public opinion; remember your actions may impact upon the future of duck hunting.
If an event such as this does not immediately call into question duck hunting’s future in Victoria, then the quaint notion of behaving “ethically” while killing wild birds may as well be struck out now, exposed as an absurdity and an oxymoron.
This was not a hunt. This was a free-for-all.
(Andrew Stafford is an author, blogger and birder. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @staffo_sez.)
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