WARNING - CONFRONTING IMAGES: Protected birds on the edge of extinction have been gunned down on the opening day of Victoria’s controversial duck season.
Amongst the threatened birds left dead were the twisted parts of a blue-winged shoveler. They were found "stuffed" inside a tree hollow in what's believed to have been a crude attempt to hide them. Hunters are only permitted to take four birds a day and are not allowed to kill threatened species.
“This is explosive,” Wildlife Victoria’s CEO Lisa Palma told Yahoo News Australia from the Wooroonook Lakes in the state’s central north. “We’ve had five threatened species all deceased with gunshot wounds.”
Victoria defies duck hunt ban pressure
The Andrews Labor government ignored mounting calls from animal advocates and members of its own party not to sanction shooting in 2023. Instead, it allowed a shorter season to occur between April 26 and May 30.
Until late on Tuesday night, advocates had repeated warnings that allowing the event to proceed would result in threatened species being killed. They noted numerous protected species including swans had been gunned down in previous years.
“If you have a wetland, threatened species, and you allow attack shooters on it, you’ll have dead threatened species. It’s par for the course,” veteran anti-duck shooting campaigner Laurie Levy told Yahoo.
Call for duck season to be suspended
Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell said the deaths of threatened species are "absolutely disgraceful, but not surprising." She has called for the season to be immediately suspended as there is no way to monitor compliance across all of Victoria's lakes.
"We know that time and time again shooters kill threatened and protected species because every year they get away with it," she said. "The season shouldn't be allowed to continue after the behaviour we've seen today."
Yahoo attempted to contact Victoria’s environment minister Ingrid Stitt for comment on Tuesday and again on Wednesday morning, however she did not respond.
On Wednesday evening a message was sent from a Victorian government spokesperson confirming it has concerns about "poor hunter" behaviour.
"A precautionary approach has (been) taken to the 2023 duck season due to concerns regarding the rates of wounding of ducks, poor behaviour by some hunters, and the fact that waterbird abundance, breeding and habitat availability, all show long-term declines," it said in a statement.
"The bag limit for ducks is reduced from 10 to four birds, two species recently listed as threatened are prohibited from hunting, and the season length has been shortened. The hunting of blue-winged shoveler ducks and hardhead ducks is strictly prohibited, and there are significant penalties for breaches."
Hunters say duck season is an important tradition
While interest in duck shooting is diminishing, advocates of the “sport” consider it an important family tradition. Many hunters shoot responsibly and prefer wild game to farm-raised meat.
In 2019, an avid hunter told Yahoo it's a myth that they’re “bloodthirsty lunatics that just want to kill”. For many it’s an opportunity to spend time with friends and family, and butcher meat that can be used throughout the year.
“Duck opening coming around is one of the things I look forward to every year,” he said.
What rules must duck shooters follow?
Only six species, the Pacific black duck, mountain duck, chestnut teal, grey teal, pink-eared duck, and wood duck are permitted to be shot. Hunters are required to make “all reasonable efforts” to retrieve and salvage at least the breast meat of all downed birds.
Today’s tally from Lake Wooroonook includes three threatened blue-winged shovelers and one threatened hardhead duck, along with three other non-game species.
In total, rescuers removed 21 discarded ducks, and three injured from the waters. That’s despite shooters being required to euthanise all injured birds and remove dead ducks from the water.
Harrowing footage supplied to Yahoo shows an injured duck on its back, kicking its legs in pain, before it was administered pain relief. X-rays show the bodies riddled with shot.
Gav Wheatley from advocacy group Animals Australia visited a number of watercourses in the area to witness the shooting, later describing the opening minutes of the season as “mayhem”.
“They were just shooting the crap out of all the birds flying through. There were dead and wounded birds everywhere,” he alleges.
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