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Ethical Bowhunting Part 3: What do you hunt?

What Do You Hunt?

Part 3 of Ethical Bowhunting

This series of articles first appeared in the national Traditional Archery Australia (TAA) newsletter. I wrote them on request of the TAA committee. Whilst this is very different to tours, it plays a huge part in becoming an ecologist and understanding the Cape York landscape. An introduction can be found in the first article ‘Why do you hunt?’

man next to nesting turtle

The author, Rossy, a feral pig and sea turtle ecologist.

What a question!  I think the response to this question is as personal as the previous two article topics; ‘why’ and ‘how’ do you hunt?  Depending on where you’re from, what you hunt might be wildly different.  And that special species that you really enjoy hunting might differ greatly too. 

Across the world, a variety of animals are hunted.  Outside Australia, many countries permit the hunting of native wildlife, under a well-researched game management plan.  In Australia however, this is not the case.  We we are restricted to hunting feral species, or animals that aren’t native to Australia. 

pig digging in muddy water

A pig head down digging up the bulbs of the Bulkuru.

As an example, we have no native ungulates (hooved animals) in Australia.  All of our native mammals are soft-pawed; think kangaroos, wombats, gliders and the rest.  Since the introduction of ungulates in Australia, our soil structure has changed significantly.  Erosion has increased to devastating levels and

…wetlands are drying up faster due to pugging & wallowing. 

(Pugging & wallowing is where small patches of water become isolated from the main wetland, due to animal wallows or diggings/prints in mud, increasing water temperature and evaporation.) 

In some cases, in the Northern Territory, buffalo and cattle pads have broken through natural levee banks which once held tidal saltwater back.  Now, these channels through the banks have allowed saltwater to flood freshwater plains, changing entire ecosystems.

comparison of lagoons

The before and after in the same area showing the damage caused by pigs wallowing/digging in the Bulkuru (native Water Chestnut).

feral cat with native mouse in mouth

 Feral cat captured on camera with a native mammal in its mouth.

These are just ungulate (mostly herbivorous) impacts.  Feral pigs and foxes threaten the survival of sea turtles by eating 100% of turtle nests they come across.  Goats trim bushes so intensely that plants cannot survive, exacerbating erosion (especially on islands).  And feral cats may be one of our most damaging invasive species, with the potential to wipe out entire native species which they hunt for food.  Being cryptic in nature we rarely see the impacts of cats.  If you are game, and they are something you hunt, have a look at the stomach contents of just one cat and you will be shocked.

By now, I’m sure you can see where this is going.  In Australia, we hunt feral animal species, and it benefits our native ecosystems.

As a 10-year old kid, I took up hunting, and at the age of 21 I had finished my ecology degree and my postgraduate honours (research) degree, being fortunate enough to investigate the diet and impacts of feral pigs in Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park.  However, in my late teens and early twenties, I was at a crossroads.  I felt that hunting didn’t align with my ecology morals.  How could I love animals and want to protect them, but at the same time, I was hunting them. 

It was my brother, Shane, who I had grown up hunting closely with, who opened my eyes.  He reminded me that the animals we hunt in Australia, are invasive, and pose very significant threats to our native wildlife and ecosystems.  He showed me that by hunting I was potentially saving a Ctenotus lizard from being eaten by a cat, or fish from not surviving the dry season because their water was now muddied by ungulates and starved of oxygen. 

He reminded me that I could be both an ecologist and a hunter, and that the combination of the two would make a very strong ally for our native Australian ecosystems.

Years after finishing my thesis on feral pig diet and impacts, I would manage a project in Cape York working alongside Traditional Owners, CSIRO and James Cook University.  Our aim was to reduce the biodiversity impacts of feral pigs, particularly on wetlands and sea turtles.  Around 2010, a prediction was made by scientists, that sea turtles would be (locally) extinct in Cape York by 2030, if things didn’t change immediately. 

turtle hatchling in man's hand

Turtle eggs and hatchlings are dug up by feral pigs in Cape York, causing irreversible population damage.

men and helicopter next to turtle nest

Pig tracks left across the beach. At the front of the picture can be seen the destroyed turtle nest.

aboriginal man holding turtle hatchlings

Aurukun Ranger with a handful of turtle hatchlings

dry floodplain with pig damage

Once a healthy wetland, now a dry conglomerate of pig diggings.

I was tasked to monitor a significant nesting beach near Aurukun, Cape York.  In the first year, 100% of 101 turtle nests (on a 10 km sample section of beach) were eaten by feral pigs.  The following year, we applied a revolutionary ‘chemical fencing’ program and reduced nest depredation to 24%.  In following years, we expanded our survey area to 50 km of beach and kept nest depredation to below 30%, a sustainable level.  At around 500 nests per year, across 3 different species of turtle, that equated to approximately 35,000 turtle hatchlings now making it into the ocean every year.  35,000 a year, that previously weren’t making it into the ocean because feral pigs were eating their nests.

Looking back, some of the success of that project, could be attributed to a 10-year old version of myself, learning to hunt feral pigs. 

In hunting pigs, I also learnt every detail of their behaviour and ecology, which fed directly into our projects. 

So, what you hunt is entirely up to you.  It may be specific to where you live.  Perhaps there are only deer and foxes in your area, and you don’t get much opportunity to travel to hunt.  Perhaps you enjoy learning the intricacies of new species, and hunt internationally.  Perhaps you hunt all throughout Australia, but not overseas. Ultimately, it is a personal choice and one no one should be judged on.

For me, I have hunted cats, goats, deer and rabbits.  I had also hunted wild dogs, but due to learning more about dingoes (their ecosystem role and how most wild dogs are predominantly dingo), I no longer hunt them.  I have also bow-fished which I thoroughly enjoy!  But for me, hunting feral pigs is something that is very close to my heart.  They are an animal I have a huge amount of respect for, and they are incredibly variable depending on where you are.  They are intelligent and cunning.  Hardy and cheeky.  And they make you work for it.  It’s also the landscapes I hunt them in that I love.  I have a close affinity to Cape York and I love the swamps, the sandy creek beds and the hot days.  The intense sweating, the mid-walk lunches and siestas by a billabong and the surprise of waking up to one bedded 50m away from you is like nothing else.

We all have our reasons to hunt the species we do.  I have mine and I’m sure you all have yours.  If not…perhaps it’s time to find them.

aerial image of muddy swamp

Aerial views of wide spread ecosystem damage caused by feral pigs.

To see all articles in the Ethical Bowhunting series:
Part 1: ‘Why do you hunt?’
Part 2: ‘How do you hunt?’
Part 3: ‘What do you hunt?’

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