Urgent call to protect rare birds as shooters descend on Victorian lake

Victoria's controversial duck season is set to run again despite dwindling support

Victoria’s controversial duck season begins at 8am on Wednesday and animal advocates are racing against the clock, attempting to get the remote lake added to the state’s exclusion list.

Descending on Lake Buloke with drones and cameras, bird lovers have counted more than 100 freckled ducks, a species threatened with extinction in the state. Also seen at the lake are blue-billed ducks, hardhead ducks, blue-winged shovelers, musk ducks and royal spoonbills.

Gav Wheatley from advocacy group Animals Australia is part of a team documenting the rare species, hoping the presence see shooters stopped from hunting on the lake. "I really don't want to see them shot," he told Yahoo News Australia.

lake Buloke at sunrise or sunset with a large dead tree full of birds in the foreground.
Over a 100 threatened freckled ducks have been spotted amongst other waterfowl at Lake Buloke. Source: Supplied

Will the hunt be allowed to go ahead?

The Animal Justice Party's (AJP) newest Victorian MP Georgie Purcell has sent a formal request to environment minister Ingrid Stitt and members of the state government to close Lake Buloke. She warns: “There’ll absolutely be threatened species shot if they don’t."

At 3:30pm, the Victorian government agency Game Management Authority (GMA) said Lake Buloke will be open for hunting on Wednesday. “The GMA has not received any recent reports of protected species at Lake Buloke,” a spokesperson said.

At 7:50pm, after publication of this article, GMA updated its response saying it had "been made aware of claims of sightings of threatened species of ducks at Lake Buloke".

"As the practice is to confirm any reports of protected species before taking action to close a wetland to hunting, Lake Buloke will be open for game hunting tomorrow," it continued.

Yahoo has attempted to contact environment minister Stitt’s office directly for comment.

Activists say they have counted 100 freckled ducks and other protected waterfowl on Lake Buloke. Source: Coalition Against Duck Shooting
Activists say they have counted 100 freckled ducks and other protected waterfowl on Lake Buloke. Source: Coalition Against Duck Shooting

Across other parts of the state, a reduced season will run until 30 minutes after sunset on May 30. Only the Pacific black duck, mountain duck, chestnut teal, grey teal, pink-eared duck and wood duck are permitted to be shot.

Is duck season still popular?

Coalition Against Duck Shooting founder Laurie Levy first waded into Victoria’s wetlands on a dark morning in 1986, and he’s been calling for a ban ever since.

He has good reason to fear for the safety of threatened species on the lake. In 2017, his team gathered evidence that 183 freckled ducks and blue bill ducks were gunned down at the Koorangie Marshes, 110km northeast from Lake Buloke.

If shooters are allowed on Lake Buloke and threatened species are gunned down, Mr Levy plans to collect the bodies, as he has done for decades, and dump them on the doorstep of the Victorian Premier’s office on Monday.

“On this wetland in the late eighties and early nineties, Lake Buloke used to get 10,000 duck shooters on the opening weekend. It was a war zone,” he told Yahoo News Australia. “In those days birds were falling out of the sky everywhere and basically everything got shot.”

Two images of Laurie Levy putting dead waterbirds outside a Victorian premier's office.
Laurie Levy has been campaigning to ban Victoria's duck season for decades. Source: AAP

While the Andrews Labor Government has defied growing calls to ban the state’s annual duck season, the number of shooters has dwindled in recent years. There is also sustained pressure from within the party to follow the lead of NSW, Queensland and Western Australia who phased out the hunts decades ago.

Mr Levy said this year the government has “has done an amazing job” closing wetlands with threatened species present, but Lake Buloke remains a concern.

Is Lake Buloke the only waterbody of concern?

The AJP’s Georgie Purcell told Yahoo she submitted a formal closure request for the lake plus 11 other waterbodies and she understands authorised officers have been sent to confirm the sightings. “Now I’m just nervously waiting to hear back on what decision they make,” she said.

Other locations she wants bans enforced at are Bells Swamp, Nhill Swamp, Heart Morass, Hospital Swamp, Lake Connewarre, Merrin Merrin Swamp, Chinaman Swamp, Lake Moorhead, Lake Wallace, Lake Gherang and Reedy Lake. They have been nominated for a number of reasons, including the presence of threatened species including brolgas, recent population devastation from botulism bacteria, and the presence of the deadly PFAS chemical.

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