Hunting in National Parks? Er, I don’t think so.

Esther BeatonConservation, Habitats, New South Wales

Last week about 100 people protested against a bill that would allow hunters to shoot feral animals in national parks. Much of the protest is spearheaded by rangers from the National Parks and Wildlife Service of NSW. They claim that hunters won’t discriminate – that they are just as likely to shoot native wildlife as pest species.
I’ve had personal experience on this issue. Several years ago I joined Operation Duck Rescue at Barren Box Swamp in the Riverina region of New South Wales. I watched first hand as native birds were shot by hunters and left to die – all because they got in the way of targeted ducks.
Prior to that, I was quite a neutral party. I didn’t have a strong aversion to hunting; I thought it had its place in the world. But once I personally witnessed the attitude and behavior of the hunters, my opinion shifted strongly.
I was naive. I thought that licensed hunters would abide by the rules. One rule was to never aim the gun at or below the horizontal level. I photographed one hunter doing just that. Then there was the hunter who held his shotgun dead level, aimed at me – ME! – and fired. I was further disappointed when I reported this to the NPWS rangers. They refused to investigate or report it to the police. Instead they searched my car – for ducks!
The story gets sadder. The protestors were not overstating the case as I initially thought. One of the jobs the rescuers assigned themselves was to wade and paddle around the swamp picking up the wounded waterfowl and rushing them to the temporary vet camp.
It was tragic to discover injured ducks Рlegal game Рthat had fallen and not been picked up by hunters. But most devastating of all was to come across the non-target native birds Рthe illegally shot aftermath.
The swamp at that time of year, March, was basically a rookery. Hundreds of nesting cormorants were raising chicks and many were caught in the crossfire as they flew back and forth to their nests. My heart went out as we found a juvenile Pacific Heron, unable to fly, left pathetically to die. The hunters were walking off the scene carrying just their 10-duck bag limit, but in their wake dozens of uncounted native birds were left dead and dying.

At that time I felt the rangers were on the side of the hunters with their strong source of income from licensing fees. Today the rangers are the spokesmen for the opposite camp. They are determined to protect the innocent wildlife species that Рdespite the assurances of hunters Рdo get caught in the chaos and heat of the moment.

There is no debate when it comes to the damage caused by feral mammals like pigs, goats, camels, horses and foxes. I’ve seen a landscape almost denuded by goats with not a morsel left for native rock-wallabies. I’ve seen pig routings that have turned over entire sections of forest. Undeniably, these introduced species are pests and I for one want to see them annihilated. But will hunters, if turned loose to cull them, abide by the license? Or will they be just as happy to level their firearms at a startled kangaroo, possum or other innocent native? Intentions may be good, but experience says – it ain’t gonna happen.
What’s your experience or opinion on this issue?