While Australia is the largest exporter of beef in the world (and the sixth largest consumer), we also kill thousands of beasts each year in national parks across the country.
In the last few months, culls have taken place in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and North Queensland. A lot of planning goes into the events with local farmers notified and given time to muster any of their cattle from the parks.
In Queensland, the traditional owners of Rinyirru (aka Lakefield National Park), were involved in a two year project, rounding up more than 5,000 unbranded cattle. The final stage, which commenced in January 2017, involved the destruction of the remaining feral animals.
Meanwhile, in Western Australia last year, Parks and Wildlife culled 5,118 cattle, 262 camels, 145 donkeys, 90 pigs, 42 horses and one water buffalo.
While adjacent farmers were informed before the culls took place, many areas of the remote Kimberly region are inaccessible to musterers. According to WA Parks and Wildlife, these regions also have a high conservation priority and it is, therefore, vital to keep them as cattle-free as possible.
In defence of cattle culling
Regional manager of WA Parks and Wildlife, Daryl Moncrieff, explained the department doesn’t like shooting the animals and letting them go to waste. However, as an introduced species, feral cattle cause vast destruction to Australian bush land. This leaves them with a “lesser of two evils” choice between wasting the lives of cattle and allowing protected land to be degraded.
The story is similar in the Northern Territory. Pete Cotsell, who oversees the culling projects in Kakadu National Park, said:
“In the more sensitive areas of the park, such as the sandstone country where there are pristine springs, they’re doing a lot of damage. Six-thousand animals is equivalent to 24,000 harsh hoofs which are around waterways, digging up the mud and sending plumes out into these sort of pristine wetland areas. So they are doing a significant amount of damage and the spread of weeds as well is a big issue.”
Protests against cattle culling
While the environmental impact of these feral beasts trampling through our national parks is a relevant concern, it is not the only one worthy of consideration. From farmers to activist groups, there are many voices opposing the government’s cattle culls.
Mixed opinions from farmers
WA farmer, Lynette Craig, explained the cattle do serve a purpose within the national parks, eating grass, which in turn reduces bush fire risk.
“It is a waste of beef, especially when you’ve got so many people starving in the world but…the primary concern is the fire risk because there’s now nothing to keep the feed down.”
In Queensland, former Coen Shire mayor and current Agforce councillor, Graham Elmes, questions the government’s motives. He claims the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service never purchase cattle but have their own brand registered and suggested the pre-cull musters are just a way to make money off the stray cattle of surrounding farmers.
Elmes claims many farmers aren’t being given the notice period mandated by the Queensland Forestry Act (1959) and, therefore, aren’t able to claim their stray cattle before government mustering and culling takes place. With his words, he painted a lawless picture of North Queensland’s national parks.
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service spokesperson, Jason Jacobi, confirmed any unbranded (cleanskin) cattle found in the parks are stamped with the national park’s brand before being removed. However, he disagrees with Elmes’ contention that farmers are not given adequate opportunity to claim any cattle that’s theirs.
Jacobi points to the recent legislative changes which allow farmers to muster cattle from protected ares for up to a year; a massive increase from the former 60 day limit.
“This change has made a significant improvement to the time available for graziers to muster their cattle. It allows room for things like the wet season and gives producers a lot more flexibility.”
Jacobi claims QPWS figures show 90% of the animals found in the parks are cleanskin and that these wild-breeding beasts have poor genetic characteristics, giving them little market value and making mustering economically illogical for farmers.
Outrage from activists
Outspoken animal rights group, PETA, have by no means made cattle culling a campaign priority. But they have had their say on the issue. Aussie campaigner, Claire Fryer, said killing in the name of animal control was cruel.
“If the State Government insists on using lethal measures to manage cattle in Lakefield National Park, it will find itself in a cruel, endless, and expensive killing cycle. The only effective and humane way to stop cows from entering national parks is with better fencing.”
This is an interesting stance from an organisation responsible for a facility that puts down 96% of the animals sent to it. They present a “lesser of two evils” argument for their animal killing. When confronted with criticism about their practice, PETA founder, Ingrig Newkirk retorted:
“It’s easy to point the finger at those who are forced to do the dirty work.”
Dairy and cattle farmers the world over would be quick to fire this exact statement back at PETA in response to the organisation’s criticism of their industries. In fact, PETA’s argument precisely reflects the one presented by Parks and Wildlife representatives in defence of cattle culling in National Parks.
Fences and flood gates are being built but the areas of land that need to be covered are huge and, according to Parks and Wildlife, measures need to be taken in the meantime to deal with the present-day problems.
While the various Parks and Wildlife Departments across the nation may be correct in their claims that the culling is an environmental necessity, their move dose pose another environmental question.
What happens to the bodies?
Culling sees thousands of animals shot during a brief window of time. A spokesperson from the WA Parks and Wildlife Department confirmed nothing is done with the bodies. Rather, nature is left to take its course.
That’s a lot of death piled up in our national parks all at once. Images from the cull show dead animals in waterways. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), urges farmers to ensure deceased stock are not buried anywhere close to water sources as they can cause contamination.
According to WA Parks and Wildlife regional manager, Daryl Moncrieff, we can expect to see more culls later in the year. Due to the massive expanses of land in question, it is impossible to completely eradicate feral beasts.
“There will always be areas they’ll infiltrate from, so it’s more a matter of keeping on top of numbers to reduce the impacts as much as we can.”