Fight for deer life as greens take on hunters
Sunday Age, Page: 7. Sunday, 10 May, 2009
A battle between environmentalists and hunters over the future of Victoria’s sambar deer has overturned the old adversaries’ traditional roles.
Environmentalists want the deer the state’s largest but most elusive game species declared a feral pest arid eradicated from the bush.
But game hunters want the sambar protected from open-slather hunting and mass culling that would mean they were targeted with spotlights, hunting dogs, navigation systems and high tech firearms, and even shot at from helicopters.
Sambar, which stand taller than most cattle, are a protected game species under the Victorian Wildlife Act.
But a State government appointed scientific committee has downgraded them under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act as a “threatening process” because of their impact on critically endangered native plants.
The committee found the deers’ excessive browsing and antler rubbing were reducing the abundance of tree species such as cheny ballart, lilly-pilly, muttonwood and the threatened yellow wood. tree ferns, mosses and rare fungi. But game hunters fear the downgrading is the first step towards the deer being dec1a~d a feral pest.
After receiving responses to a new sambar action plan Environment Minister Gavin Jennings must decide how best to control the growing deer population.
Sambar are native to forested areas of India, Sri Lanka arid southern Asia. They were introduced by the Victorian Acclimatization Society to Western Port arid ranges east of Melbourne in the 1860s.
They have since spread through the alpine forests of north-east Victoria to Gippsland and southern NSW/ Their numbers are estimated at between 10,000 arid 50,000, although populations have been affected by recent bushfires.
Under the Wildlife Act, sambar can be stalked by licensed game hunters, but culled only if they pose a threat to agriculture, conservation or safety.
As a result, they have become an international tourist attraction, drawing game hunters to the Victorian bush as one of the last areas where the animals can be tracked in the wild.
Those campaign to return sambar to full protected game status are the state’s main hunting groups: the Australian Deer Association, Sporting Shooters ‘ Association of Australia and Field arid Game Victoria.
The Australian Deer Association wants the “threatening process” listing dropped and numbers managed by recreational shooting and selected culling by Parks Victoria.
“There are some groups that say let ‘s get rid of these deer because they are an invasive species but they have been hem 150 years and we have not found that they threaten native flora,” association president Shane Tyrrell said. “This is a creeping review The whole invasive species issue is a problem.” But the Invasive Species Council of Australia argues the deer are feral and “a very serious and growing environmental threat in Victoria”.
According to the council, recreational hunting almost never achieves effective control of feral animals and it accuses the State Government of acting in the interests of deer hunters arid landowners rather than the environment. It has warned of increased campaigns if the Victorian Government does not declare the deer feral pests.
But a DSE spokeswoman said there were no plans to review their status.
“Being listed as a threatening process under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act does not conflict with the status of sambar under the Wildlife Act,” she said.
“There is no intention to change the status of sambar under the Wildlife Act.”