Strange 'myth' prompts Tasmanian farmers to kill thousands of black swans

·Environment Editor
·4-min read

A exaggerated 'myth' may be behind the killings of thousands of swans in one Australian state.

New data reveals Tasmania farmers have killed over 6000 in just three years.

While they may be beautiful to look at, swans are known to destroy crops, dig holes, and cost primary producers money.

With these waterfowl being killed in such high numbers, one expert is urging farmers and regulators to consider whether their actual impact could be exaggerated.

Tasmanian farmers have killed more than 6000 swans, but the state's peak bird authority has questioned whether this was justified. Source: Getty
Tasmanian farmers have killed more than 6000 swans, but the state's peak bird authority has questioned whether this was justified. Source: Getty

Dr Eric Woehler from Birdlife Tasmania suspects many birds species, including swans and Cape Barren geese, might be killed in such high numbers because of myths they have a significant impact on pasture.

“I've had discussions with farmers who believe every Cape Barren goose can eat the equivalent of four sheep,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“So there's always this tension that the birds are displacing the sheep from pasture, but from a biology perspective it's not possible.

“Some farmers though are very conservative and believe what was good enough for their grandfathers is good enough for their grandsons, and I suspect it’s going to take a long time to change these practices.”

Concern endemic bird species being killed

In 2019, an estimated 20,000 black swans were living across the state. They are just one of 26 native species the Tasmanian government has allowed to be destroyed as part of its Property Protection Permit system.

Amongst the millions killed are species only found in Tasmania, like the green rosella and the native hen. Eighteen yellow-tailed black cockatoos have also been killed.

Birdlife Tasmania believe outdated myths held by Tasmanian farmers about swans could be leading to their slaughter. Source: Getty (File)
Birdlife Tasmania believe outdated myths held by Tasmanian farmers about swans could be leading to their slaughter. Source: Getty (File)

With the cull numbers so high, Dr Woehler would like regulators to consider non-lethal methods instead.

"It kind of makes them a myth of our clean, green perception when you've got millions of animals being shot, or poisoned, or hit by cars every year in Tasmania," Dr Woehler said.

"I acknowledge farmers do have problems with some of these animals, but culling shouldn't be the top of the list of options. It should be the last option.

"The fact that other options may be more expensive, is probably one of the reasons why they're not as as attractive."

Installing reflective tape across fields is one alternative to culling, with a trial in the UK showing it scares away significant numbers of swans.

Lasers and pyrotechnics can also be effective in scaring away destructive birds in the US, but some experts believe occasional lethal force is needed for these methods to be effective.

Which Tasmanian birds and animals are being killed by farmers?

  • 1,176,002 Bennett’s wallabies

  • 1,088,117 rufous wallabies

  • 530,487 brushtail possums

  • 24,108 forester kangaroos

  • 14,163 sulphur crested cockatoos

  • 6148 black swans

  • 5505 mountain ducks

Wildlife slaughter numbers prompt call for inquiry

The figures, released by the Tasmanian government to a parliamentary budget estimates committee, have been described as “staggering” by Greens environment spokesperson Dr Rosalie Woodruff.

"These are much loved creatures that visitors and locals go out of their way to see, and some are in dramatic population decline," she said.

Some farmers believe Cape Barren geese eat four times more than a sheep. Source: Getty (File)
Some farmers believe Cape Barren geese eat four times more than a sheep. Source: Getty (File)

Dr Woodruff is now calling for a Parliamentary Inquiry into wildlife protection, and questioned whether there is appropriate oversight by authorities.

“The Department are required to verify crop damage is occurring before granting a permit to kill wildlife,” she said.

“Given the number or permits being signed off, the process clearly has no on-ground assessment and is a tick and flick approval.

“The government relies on basic drive-by surveys to assess native animal numbers, a devastatingly ineffective measure of the impacts of mass killings.”

Tasmania's Department of Natural Resources and Environment and Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association have been contacted for comment.

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