The great bait debate

Hunting’s opponents claim that the term ‘conservation hunting’ is evidence of hunters’ intention to conserve populations of feral species in the environment for their own ends, rather than striving to eradicate them. In fact the term conservation hunting describes a strategy aimed at the conservation of native species and habitat, through the control of feral species.  Hunting’s opponents also claim that conservation hunting will not achieve this objective and that is absolutely correct. The suggestion that hunters claim that it will, is nothing more than a convenient deception promulgated by those who would have hunting of all kinds banned. Such people have demonstrated time and again that they will do anything – including wilfully misleading the public – to achieve that end.

Game Council NSW has never claimed that conservation hunting is the solution to Australia’s growing feral animal problem, nor would any informed hunter make such a claim. It is simply one component of a range of initiatives that must be implemented if we are to first contain and then control a growing national epidemic. In fact, most of the academic wisdom suggests that it may be impossible to eradicate many of our feral species, which have been here for so long and are now so well adapted to the Australian continent, that they will likely be tomorrow’s natives species, but at what cost? Nature has only so many bio-niches, and if feral species are destined to be the ‘natives’ of tomorrow, it is logical to suggest that other species will have to make way for them today.

Hunting’s opponents claim that there are more effective and humane ways to control feral animal populations. Trapping and baiting are among the alternatives they promote and it is vitally important that the wider community should appreciate their possible consequences; in particular, the consequences of baiting.

A great deal of deception has been employed by interests who would have the public believe that baiting can be targeted at a specific species without consequence to other birds, animals and insects that share the same habitat.  It is difficult to source reliable studies that objectively document the impact of baiting on non-feral species. The little that is available reveals some very compelling evidence that baiting may have far reaching consequences for native animal populations, but from the layman’s perspective such studies are often far from reader friendly.

The long term future of conservation hunting will be determined by the court of popular opinion and the voter, and in the absence of easily digested objective facts the voter’s opinion is determined by a combination of urban myth, emotional manipulation and political hype. It may never be possible to convince the dyed-in-the-wool anti-hunter that hunting is no more or less ‘cruel’ than the end nature has in store for feral species, but it may be possible to enlighten the public as to the collateral consequences of the anti-hunters’ preferred options. Perhaps by doing so hunters can foster a greater public awareness of the complexities associated with non-hunting control strategies, such as baiting.

With this end in mind, I encourage the reader to view the GrafBoys’ exposé on baiting, entitled “Poisoning Stewart Island – is it ecocide” which can be seen here

While not an Australian production, this brief New Zealand exposé does raise many questions that are relevant to the use of baits in Australia, especially those used to control non-carnivorous species. New Zealand and Australia share many invasive animal species and environments in common, and it is not unreasonable to suggest that we may also share similar outcomes in relation to the collateral toll baiting can take on native species, especially carrion eaters.

The exposé features the environmental impact of baits containing the second generation anticoagulant Brodifacoum, and it graphically demonstrates that the use of a non-hunting control measure does not automatically make it more humane for its intended victim, or less injurious to native species.

NZ is in fact the world’s largest consumer of Sodium Fluoroacetate, the poison known as 1080, which has been used to great effect in the control of New Zealand’s introduced mammals. However, it must be remembered that unlike Australian, which has many native land mammals, NZ has only two, both of them bats.  As a result, NZ is afforded the luxury of being able to adopt something of a scatter-gun approach to feral mammal control, because all but two of the country’s mammals are, by definition, feral.  Australia enjoys no such luxury and whether 1080 is in fact a humane poison remains a very contentious issue.

The RSPCA’s website advises that it has conducted a review of the available science on the ‘humaneness’ of the effect of 1080 and as a result its policy position is that 1080 is not a humane poison. However, the RSPCA acknowledges that in many circumstances there is “currently no alternative effective control method available”. This begs the question, if the effectiveness of a poison it considers ‘cruel’ mitigates the RSPCA’s opposition to its use, why is the RSPCA so vehemently and publically opposed to recreational hunting? But that’s a question to explore another day…

I hope you will find “Poisoning Stewart Island – is it ecocide” interesting. More importantly, I hope you will consider sharing the link with others in the hope that doing so will result in a greater appreciation of the many complexities associated with the use of poisoned baits for the control of Australia’s feral species. I believe that education is the key to achieving an objective public appraisal of conservation hunting’s true value in the control of feral pests.  Resourcing the public with the information required in order to ask the right questions and make informed decisions, is a practical strategy we should all participate in.

Anyway, I’ll get outa ya way now…


3 thoughts on “The great bait debate”

  1. Well written and made the point well. This is the sort of thing we should know about so that we can present a good reason for shooting. It is much more humane!

  2. the only problem is there are not enough shooters out there and if there were it would be kind of dangerous,
    we bait and shoot on our property, for two reasons, 1) we can only shoot some nights and even then we may not get anything as we are only out for an hour or so, and two the baits work around the clock. it is unfortunate that we have to bait but that is how the world is these days. i do not believe that they are humane. shooting is very very humane, one second the “poor” rabit is minding his own business eating my roses, then someone kindly turns the light on so he can see better, then it gets a bit fuzzy after that and our “poor” mr rabbit is at peace. much better than dying a horrible three day death by poison.
    the question i put to the greenies is would they rather shoot there pet dog or poison it, because i can assure you if my dog picked up a bait somehow i wouldn’t even make him suffer a long painful ride in the car, fitting, ejaculating and spasiming all over my back seat to be euthenised at the vet

    which begs the question why is there no antidote, not even for people

  3. G’day Shane,

    Of course people on the land will have to use all the weapons in the arsenal if they have any hope of even keeping pace with the increasing devastation wrought by feral and plague species. No one would criticise you for that. I think what the GrafBoys doco aims to point out is that baits alone are not the answer, and that baiting is something of an odd alternative for Greens to be promoting as a preferable alternative to hunting.

    I’m sure there are a great many farmers who, rather than baiting, would prefer to open their properties to responsible and conscientious licensed hunters, who may even be willing to pay for the privilege. Lord knows they could do with the additional income this may produce.


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