You’d have to be batty to gun down these critters
In 2008, the Queensland Labor Government banned shotgunning flying foxes in orchards in response to the Queensland Animal Welfare Advisory Committee judging that shotguns weren’t a humane killing method. The Beattie Government banned duck shooting for the same reason in 2005.
In response, Campbell Newman promised before the last election to reintroduce shotguns in orchards. Why should the pig doggers have all the fun? But there was a legislative requirement that control measures be humane. What to do? Too easy. Get rid of the requirement for humaneness.
As of last Friday, you can now cripple and wound flying foxes without any risk of prosecution for cruelty. Instead there will be a code of practice. This is a familiar trick. Any time you want to do something cruel to an animal, have it put in a code of practice along with a general provision defining all actions done under a code of practice to be outside the welfare jurisdiction. This prevents any uppity RSPCA inspector applying anti-cruelty legislation where it’s not bloody welcome.
Want to cut the toes off emus? It’s in the code of practice. Want to use an angle grinder to sharpen a sheep’s teeth? It’s in the code.
Similarly, if you prefer to kill and cripple rather than exclude flying foxes from your crop? Stick it in a code.
While there are many studies demonstrating the appalling crippling rates when shooting ducks with shotguns, there is only one on shooting flying foxes with shotguns. In 2006, a NSW producer allowed researchers to collect the dead and injured in the mornings after shooting. Obviously, knowing the results would be public makes it likely this is a best case scenario.
Nevertheless, the resulting study makes chilling reading. People shoot flying foxes at night. Most of those shot don’t die straight away but find a tree to shelter in. Even if the shooters find these injured animals with spotlights, they will be reluctant to take a follow up shot which will damage the tree. So the bats hang around until they die. A female with a youngster back in the colony may make an attempt to fly or crawl home, but by then the shooters are long gone.
The researchers, in full daylight and with no time pressure, found some of these wounded hanging in trees. They managed to rescue some, but others were simply out of reach.
Over a fortnight they collected 164 dead or injured animals. Obviously, there will also be the flying wounded; some will recover, some will succumb. The lactation state of females indicated that another 41 young flying foxes would have starved back in the colony after their mums were shot. Fifty animals were found alive, 34 were euthanased and the rest were sent to wildlife carers. One juvenile was heard high in one of the trees around the orchard calling for its mum for some four days after a shoot.
Of course, many fruit growers around Australia made the move into the 20th century… in the 20th century. In the Adelaide Hills, the past three decades have produced nets everywhere. Nets on fruit trees, grapes, you name it, nets everywhere.
What’s wrong in Queensland? Probably not that much. Many growers use nets and don’t need to shoot anything. But it’s time the rest woke up and it’s time politicians stopped catering to the lowest rungs on the red necked ladder.
Flying fox populations have been declining for a century as a result of habitat destruction, mainly for sheep and cattle with our urban areas occupying only about 2 per cent of the cleared land. In Queensland alone, the cowboys have cleared 7.8 million hectares during the past 20 years. Plenty of this was once flying fox habitat.
Two of the four species targeted by orchardists have been officially designated as vulnerable: the Grey Headed and the Spectacled. In the 1950s, the Grey Headed Flying Foxes existed in the many millions. Now their numbers are down to some 400,000. They need friends.
As well as shooters, flying foxes are at serious threat from climate change. As the number of really hot days each year rises, along with the average temperature, the question is: “How hot does it need to get before flying foxes start to die?” and the answer is 42 degrees. On January 12, 2002 in the northern rivers area of NSW, 3,500 flying foxes died of heat stroke in 9 colonies of various species. Since 1994, wildlife researchers have counted lifeless bodies in 19 such disasters.
It’s time Queenslanders who gave a toss let Campbell Newman know. We need new stickers on Queensland’s utes: We give a damn about cruelty and we vote.
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