Harvesting feral animals

Australia is the most urbanised country on Earth, with 89% living in urban areas, and the continuing alienation of urban from rural means that most urban people have little knowledge and less experience of rural land management issues. 

Too many urban Australians believe that simply locking up key areas of our environment into National Parks is enough to protect them, and do not see that the underfunding of National Parks and State Forests means that their pristine nature and uniqueness is being destroyed by weeds and feral animals like deer, goats, pigs, rabbits, horses, camels, foxes, feral dogs, cats and buffalo.

Feral animal and weed control is left to landowners, with potential large fines for those who refuse or cannot cull, but the underfunding of crown land management means that feral animals breed on crown lands then raid farmlands and retreat back to Crown lands, and weeds spread from road verges and public land and wash down the catchments to spread. Not only is it a huge cost for farmers in multi-million dollar damage to crops and infrastructure, the cost of management in time and money is also huge. And the only use for the dead animals is either to let them rot and release carbon, or turn them into pet food, if they can be shot and transported to appropriate regional processing by licensed hunters. Most regional abattoirs have been closed or only handle cows, domestic pigs and sheep.

If setting up a feral animal harvest industry was subsidised federally, not only would controlling these destructive animals be affordable, it would produce a viable supplementary income for farmers instead of being a financial burden and a terrible waste of resources which could instead be a viable export industry.

In the process, co-grazing can complement livestock grazing. “Two recently published papers — including one in the journal Science — offer the first experimental evidence that allowing cattle to graze on the same land as wild animals can result in healthier, meatier bovines by enhancing the cows' diet. The findings suggest a new approach to raising cattle that could help spare wildlife from encroaching ranches, and produce more market-ready cows in less time.
The reports stem from large-scale studies conducted in Kenya wherein cows shared grazing land with donkeys in one study and, for the other, grazed with a variety of wild herbivorous animals, including zebras, buffalo and elephants. The lead author on both papers was Wilfred Odadi, a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Dan Rubenstein, the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology and chair of Princeton's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
In August, Rubenstein and Odadi reported in the journal Evolutionary Ecology Research that cattle paired with donkeys gained 60 percent more weight than those left to graze only with other cows. The researchers proposed that the donkeys — which were chosen as tamer stand-ins for zebras and other wild horses — ate the rough upper-portion of grass that cows have difficulty digesting, leaving behind the lush lower vegetation on which cattle thrive.” https://www.princeton.edu/…/news/ar…/S32/93/41K10/index.xml…

However if the wild animals cannot be harvested then this resource is wasted and they become competition and land-destroyers in times of drought. In Kenya, where the Princeton studies were done, co-grazing zebras are turned into salami and giraffes provide triple the amount of meat to steers of an equivalent age.

The present situation in Australia is that when responsible land managers de-stock in times of drought, selling or moving their animals so that grass cover is left to protect the soil and keep the moisture in it, feral animals and plague-proportion kangaroo mobs — or the co-grazers — move in and strip the soil down to the dirt, which results in more erosion and dust-storms, less water absorption, higher soil temperatures, and less methane-absorbing and other beneficial soil microbes.

Any attempt to have this debate has been controlled up to now by sentimentalists and animal liberationists who have hijacked any attempt to stop the extinctions of our native animals and protect our environment and regulate humane feral animal control. We need to strip the sentimentality out of the debate and stop worrying about eating Wilbur, Bambi, Thumper, Pussy, White Fang, Reynard, Thowra and Storm, or exporting them to people happy to eat or use them, and instead see clearly that if we do not manage our land we will be left with a desert, whether we personally choose to eat or use these animals or not. We need a marketing campaign for these Enviro-products. The Save our National Parks range? Responsible Game products?

Sustainable land management is nothing new. Australia has always been managed land. Aboriginal communities managed it carefully with fires and with areas protected from fire for at least 40,000 years, and this produced a particular range of environments that supported our unique flora and fauna.

With white colonisation, not only was this careful fire regime destroyed, but introduced animals wreaked havoc on the Australian environment and began a wave of vast changes and mass extinctions that continues today. These changes make our environments far more susceptible to wildfires that kill our forests and contribute over a third of our carbon emissions, and contribute to the erosion that strips our fragile topsoils and chokes our catchments and Reef. With climate change increasing temperatures and drying out the soil, these fires are only getting more severe and more frequent. The challenges to modern land management are only getting greater.

The most devastating impact on our native wildlife has been the cat- worse than land clearing, both urban and rural, which has also wreaked havoc. Feral animals like camels, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, foxes, buffalo, deer, pigs, and horses, and introduced weeds, continue to push native animals to extinction, erode and destroy our grasslands, forests and riparian zones so our waterways silt up; bare the topsoil for erosion by overgrazing; and directly or indirectly eat or compete with our native animals and plants and our livestock industry. They are an increasing threat to farming viability.

Feral animals are driving native animals and plants into extinction. The cost of controlling any of these animals on its own is prohibitive. What is needed in Australia to protect our environment from destruction by feral animals is to subsidise the establishment and marketing of a feral animal products industry that tackles all these pests. This would also encourage farmers to allow co-grazing of native wildlife and certain feral animals like brumbies in controlled areas, by enabling to harvest them to manage and protect the land in times of drought or animal population growth beyond the ability of the land to sustain without damage.

To establish this industry what we need are: 

• More regional abattoirs to process feral animals and plague-proportion roos,

• 4WD mobile abattoirs which can access remote regions where feral animal plagues are worst,

• Bone grinders mounted on 4WD trucks to turn bones into fertiliser,

• Maggot farms to process the diseased entrails into sterile maggot meal, which sustainably replaces unsustainable fishmeal used to feed fish farms, chickens and pigs,

• Harvesting of hides for processing into leather, fur and felt,

• Changing legislation so that humanely harvested animals can be humanely killed and processed on-farm and sold off-farm,

• A simple way farmers can legally and humanely harvest and sell non-endangered kangaroos and wallabies to prevent them reaching plague proportions and stripping de-stocked pastures down to the dirt, which is extremely bad for the soil. Instead of just shooting them to put them out of their misery when they are starving, and letting them rot on the ground. 

• A PR campaign to convince people to buy the products and allow their export.

A big picture, government subsidised approach is needed. Apart from anything else, it will provide struggling farmers with an alternate source of income, and recycle valuable protein grown without input on the marginal ground which makes up 47% of Australia.

In summary:

To save our environment- build an industry to recycle ALL feral animals into product:

1: more regional abattoirs

2: mobile abattoirs

3: bone grinders on trucks

4: turn entrails into sterile maggot meal

5: convert hides and fur to leather and felt

6: change legislation to allow regulated home kill sales

7: PR campaign to win public support

Elena Garcia,
Marginal country cattle grazier,
Western Downs, Qld.

[Editor's note: Related content can also be found in Socialist Alliance's policy on Agriculture]