Face-to-face with roos and wild dogs
KANGAROOS and wild dogs are a hot topic in central and south western Queensland, with the continuing drought conditions and cluster fencing projects only intensifying the discussions.
As one grazier said, "Everyone has their thoughts on them and believes they know what the problems are, but not everyone is so willing to say what they really think.”
Regrettably, the State Government doesn't seem to want to reach out and work with the stakeholders to reach a sustainable outcome, with department bungling leading to lengthy delays with real consequences for ordinary people like Judy Roberts who just wants to be able to protect her caravan park and the people who stay there.
Jacinta Cummins went out to Cunnamulla to see the problem for herself and meet those most affected by it - landholders, business owners and kangaroo shooters - to get their take on the issue and see if anyone could offer any solutions.
Government needs to jump in and help roo industry
RAY Borda owns K-Roo which is produced by South Australian kangaroo meat manufacturer Macro Meats, and he is also the president of The Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia.
He says the industry cops flak from both animal conservationists and landholders.
But, he says, the industry could have helped contribute to a more sustainable, long term solution if the Queensland Government had bothered to consult it before rushing cluster fencing through.
"I don't blame the landholders, they have got a real problem, but if the government had asked for our input, it would have been better to use the money that went to cluster fencing to put more chiller boxes in strategic locations so that shooters could access them easier and possibly even feed some profits back to the landholder,” he said.
"If we had worked together when things were good and there was feed and water, we could have been better prepared for the drought and if the government had helped the industry lower its costs, then we could have created a better market, brought landholders in on the money and reduced the need for cluster fencing.
"It would have been a win-win for everyone.”
Mr Borda said the kangaroo industry had once had the potential to boom like the wild goat industry had during the drought.
"The government got behind the goat industry when it was going mainstream and look how successful that has been; sometimes it feels like they won't give us the same support because we are too small an industry,” he said.
"At the very least, the cluster fences should have been designed so they could be opened up so the kangaroos could be herded out of the fenced areas because they're not designed to be in a confined space and being penned up doesn't do them any good which then affects meat quality.”
Mr Borda acknowledges it's hard to build a high-end market for a product that's seen as a pest animal.
"The government keeps on telling us to market our product better, but we already are putting so much money and research into this, but then the government turns around and calls our product a pest, so it makes it hard to convince an overseas buyer that kangaroo is a product worth them buying.
"The consumer must think 'Well if it's a pest in Australia, surely they should be paying us to take it off their hands or just charging cost'. I'm not blaming the landholders because they do have a problem on their hands and I'm not asking the government for a handout, but rather genuine consultation to help develop the industry.
"My own business has 10 scientists working for it and we are recognised worldwide as leaders in the production of wild game meat, but as with anything, you're not always recognised in your own back yard.
"We just want the government to talk to us and let us work with them rather than them working against us.”
Society urges public to help save kangaroos
THE Australian Society for the Protection of Kangaroos has called for people to help feed starving kangaroos in Cunnamulla and surrounds rather than calling for mass culls of the animals.
Nikki Sutterby is ASK's president and said while the organisation was not flush with resources, it would do everything in its power to help the kangaroos so culling was the absolute last resort.
ASK was established as a not-for-profit organisation to champion the cause of kangaroos a decade ago and has a volunteer committee of five and an active membership of more than 100.
Ms Sutterby said the community's attitudes towards kangaroos needed to be reversed following what she called the demonisation of the iconic animal by those who settled Australia.
"There's not a lot of money in kangaroos because their plight is not really recognised yet, we've got 200 years of propaganda and attitudes to break down,” she said.
"We've got so many farmers who just hate kangaroos and are using cluster fencing to push them off their lands so they are forced to go to common areas like the Cunnamulla school and cemetery because there is food there and they know they can't get shot at in town.
"If the cluster fences are absolutely necessary for the farmers, then we would like to see corridors between cluster fences so they can at least move on to some of their own land.
"The kangaroos were here first, so why can't you give up 10 per cent of your land for your native animals?
"The research shows that when you graze kangaroos with stock it can actually increase production.
"The kangaroos are struggling too, but no one has any sympathy for them, everyone just wants them out of their property.
"But we know that when the rains come, they'll head back out west and won't be in everybody's way, so why can't we feed them just like we do with other livestock and animals?
"You can't just go and kill the whole lot, you know, just chuck them some hay, chuck them a bit of horse feed.
"Especially if it's a tourist destination and you have tourists and travellers going through, I imagine they'd love seeing the kangaroos.
"We need to educate people about how to behave appropriately around kangaroos as they usually only attack if they're cornered and there's this startled response where they might kick out.”
Despite what many landholders see as a radical approach, one grazier east of Cunnamulla who wished to be unnamed was more diplomatic.
"If they're prepared to pay for me to feed the kangaroos and I can make a profit from them like I do feral goats or carbon sequestration, then I'd definitely do it,” he said.
Government department bungle drives Cunnamulla caravan park owner to despair
JUDY Roberts applied for a damage mitigation permit to help deal with what she described as a plague of kangaroos, which had moved into the Warrego Riverside Tourist Park outside of the town on February 21 last year.
She heard nothing for months despite repeated phone calls to different government agencies and other bodies including the RPSCA Queensland.
Mrs Roberts wanted the kangaroos on her caravan park culled when there were no people staying there so she could minimise damage to the lawns, gardens, property and also reduce the risk of litigation in the event that a kangaroo attacked someone staying there.
She also wanted to put the animals out of their misery.
"I truly am an animal lover, but it's just cruel to see the kangaroos in this state: they are in such poor condition because they're starving out in the paddocks unless they find somewhere out here or the school yards to set up camp, and they're covered in ticks and skinny,” she said.
As reported in the Maranoa Grazier and Farmer in December, the then Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, which has since been rebadged the Department of Environment and Science, blamed an administrative error for the delay in processing her application.
Judy Roberts' permit was granted that day, effective as of December 8.
However, another bungle saw the email with the permit application outcome and permits for Judy sent to Judy's email address, but addressed to a Mrs Webster, another Cunnamulla resident who Judy thought was also applying for a permit.
So Judy thought the email, which had been sent to the junk folder in her emails, was simply a forwarded email from Mrs Webster or a mistake and didn't pursue it.
"It's just ridiculous, I mean you would think after waiting nearly 10 months that they would call me to say whether I had the permit or not?” she said.
"It wasn't as if I was sitting around checking my emails every day for one from someone whose name I didn't recognise addressed to another person in case my application had been granted.
"I have a business to run and maintain, but honestly over the last year the kangaroos have just driven it into the ground with all the damage they've done and not being able to do anything about it (culling) has just broken my heart.
"I just looked at it, saw 'Mrs Webster' and assumed it was someone forwarding me theirs as an idea of what to expect or that it had been a mistake.
"I had had no contact with the department staffer who sent it to me, so it didn't register in my emails either, but instead it sat in junk for over a month.”
Mrs Roberts said it was unlikely she would have the park empty in order to have the kangaroos culled before the peak tourist season, which ran from March through to October.
She decided to put up cluster fencing around the 32 acre site, but is now on a waiting list due to a shortage of fencing materials.
"It's expensive and really, the damage has already been done to my grounds, but I have to do it to protect the people who stay here,” she said.
"I just don't think anyone in these departments actually has any idea of how bad the situation is out here, they are stuck in the city and they don't realise that not paying attention to detail has a real cost for us.
"I've had people staying up here concerned about the kangaroos, but I haven't been allowed to do anything, I've just had to watch them lie down and slowly die, then move their bodies.
"It's just broken my heart to see the animals in agony and my property destroyed, I've had a gutful.”
The then Department of Heritage and Environment Protection issued 461 permits in 2015, 338 in 2016 and 316 in 2017.
Wild kangaroos are not the RSPCA's problem
THE RSPCA has laid the responsibility for dealing with the kangaroos inundating the Cunnamulla township and surrounds squarely at the feet of the State Government.
RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty said Mrs Roberts had contacted the organisation about the kangaroos, but its hands were tied.
"The chief inspector (of RSCPCA Qld) was made aware of her concerns and had a lengthy conversation with her,” he said.
"This area is out of our control.
"It is a Biosecurity Queensland (BQ) area.
"Unfortunately, people often will come to us because they are not happy with the response they receive from a government or council department.
"RSPCA does not have any Inspectors in Cunnamulla so if there had been allegations of cruelty then our Inspectorate would refer the matter directly to BQ for investigation.”
Under Queensland's animal welfare legislation, nobody 'owns' wild animals or has any responsibility to provide food, water, shelter or veterinary treatment to them, so the RSPCA cannot investigate whether wild animals have been neglected.
Mr Beatty stressed that the kangaroos were primarily an animal management issue, while the RSPCA was in charge of animal welfare.
"While animal management inherently incorporates some animal welfare aspects, it is nevertheless primarily the role of government,” Mr Beatty said.
Mr Beatty said the RSPCA supported humane culling of kangaroos where necessary and was often a stakeholder in the decision-making process for damage mitigation permits.
Culling and other forms of species management are the responsibility of government, and in this case, primarily the responsibility of DEHP, which is being rebranded as the Department of Environment and Science this year.
"Obviously we want to ensure that the best practice methodologies are used to ensure that any culling is done as humanely as possible.
"Sometimes our involvement in animal management will mean that we propose alternative solutions, but each case and species has different circumstances to consider, and so we couldn't comment specifically on this particular issue at Cunnamulla.
"If this sounds as though we're passing the buck, that's simply not true.
"There is no point in RSPCA stepping in to spend time and our donors' money doing work that government departments should be doing.
"This can be enormously frustrating and we have to be careful because it can take RSPCA resources away from where they are needed most.”
The Department of Education and Training said it was working with other government agencies and the Paroo Shire Council in relation to the community concerns about the local kangaroo population.
"The following precautions are being taken by the school to ensure the health and safety of students and staff: increasing the frequency of outdoor and indoor cleaning; reinforcing messages to students and staff about the importance of hand washing and personal hygiene; limiting student access to some parts of the school if kangaroos are in the area and limiting student exposure to airborne dust by mowing out of school hours,” the statement read.
In a statement Queensland Police Service said local police had not received any reports of injuries due to the kangaroos in Cunnamulla and surrounds and that the kangaroos were not posing a higher risk to road users than they normally did.
Every dollar spent returns three
AGFORCE says a recent survey on the roll-out of cluster and dog fencing has found that for every $1 of government spending, there was a benefit of more than $3 to the region.
"Wild dogs have had a devastating effect on the Queensland sheep industry for decades, but the roll-out of fencing supported by state and federal government programs is revitalising the industry,” AgForce Sheep and Wool Policy Director Michael Allpass said.
"An investment in exclusion fencing not only helps the sheep industry rebuild, it helps rural communities rebuild by creating employment opportunities.
"Exclusion fencing has delivered huge benefits to sheep and wool producers.”
Mr Allpass denied allegations that the fencing was detrimental to kangaroos, citing surveys of kangaroo populations since 1992 conducted by Department of Environment and Heritage Protection with the latest data showing numbers were higher now compared to previous decades, even with parts of Queensland in their fifth year of drought.
Many landholders attribute the growth in the kangaroo population to the decision of many boxes not to accept female kangaroos due to lobbying from conservationists from the 1970s-1980s.
Mr Allpass described the exclusion fences being erected now as a case of history repeating itself, with similar fences built in the 1950s and 1960s.
"Those earlier fences had no impact on kangaroo populations back then with man-made water points providing greater access to water than kangaroos previously had,” he said.
"AgForce has consistently supported the humane and legal culling of kangaroos under an approved Damage Mitigation Permit and in line with the National Code of Practice.
"We have also encouraged the use of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia's Farmer Assist program which requires recreational shooters to be tested equivalent to a commercial harvester's standard, and are pleased that the take-up of this program has been very good.
"AgForce is extremely grateful for the funding provided so far, and we're keen for it to continue to roll out.
"AgForce has been calling on the state and federal governments to set aside $5 million each a year to meet the enormous demand from producers and get this important job done once and for all.”
King says animals are paying the price: ex-roo shooter voices opinion
TOM King is a divisive character in and around Cunnamulla and he knows it.
He's been booted off farms and called a lunatic with an axe to grind, but the roo shooters gathered at his backyard barbecue later that night tell a story of a man who is an animal lover and has a voice to rival Charlie Pride's.
Some love him, while many of the local landholders hate him after he came out claiming they were misusing cluster fencing, unfairly taking aim at the kangaroo population and that other small animals were paying the ultimate price for the fences.
"I've been accused of poaching, stealing, you name it because I've come out against graziers who aren't using cluster fencing for its original purpose,” he said.
Tom's sitting at his kitchen table with his wife and a mate, Gordon, when I meet him, having a drink in honour of Gordon's dad, Bob Bunch, who was also his mate and was buried in Cunnamulla on Friday.
He tells me I should have been there two months earlier to meet Bob.
"He could tell you everything about roo shooting after doing it all his life and shooting an estimated three million kangaroos between Cunnamulla, Quilpie, Charleville and Thargomindah,” Tom said.
"He was a legend, in the early days, he used to go out with a pack horse and he'd come back with it loaded up and he shot them, skinned them and boxed them all himself.”
When it comes to kangaroos, Tom is more sombre.
A former kangaroo shooter himself, Tom said he was kicked off the country he generally shot on after going to the media with claims that cluster fencing designed to protect livestock from wild dogs was hurting the kangaroos and other wildlife which couldn't access feed and water anymore.
"I've been a roo shooter on and off since I was 12 and I'm 61 now, I used to get 40 kangaroos a night, four nights a week, until the cluster fencing came in and then it just dropped off because the roos were getting trapped and not able to get to food or water so they just started dying.”
Tom is adamant he's not against cluster fencing, but said he was against it being misused.
"When the cluster fencing came out I was all for it, great idea, stop the dingos from coming into the good Merino area, but then I heard that they weren't going back to Merinos, that they were using it for cattle areas so it doesn't make much sense,” he said.
"These fences are designed to keep dogs out and protect sheep and we do need them.
"I'm not saying get rid of the cluster fencing, but make sure there are thoroughfares through them for the kangaroos and other small animals to get through.”
Tom believes the increase in kangaroos in areas of Cunnamulla township including the school grounds and cemetery are a natural response due to the drought and the roos knowing they are safe there.
"There's hardly any feed anywhere out of town and they know they'll get shot at on a property, so while there's grass in town and no one can shoot at them, of course they'll stay there.
"They'll be here until the drought breaks and it's just part of living out here.”
Securing the future of wool
WHILE kangaroos compete for valuable stock feed, emus, wild dogs and pigs are a bigger issue for graziers, according to fourth- generation Cunnamulla sheep producer Jesse Moody.
The Moody family lost 2500 head of their commercial Merino flock to wild dogs in just three months in 2013.
"Of the 2500 we had left, there were about 100 which had bite marks to the legs and buttocks, it was pretty awful to see them in that state,” Jesse said.
"If they made it to the yards, then they generally recovered, but it was a huge loss for us.”
Jesse operates the 140,000 acre aggregation consisting of Abbadoah, 15 kilometres east of Cunnamulla, and another block, Yarmouth, which is mainly timbered Mulga country and Mitchell grass floodplains, along with his parents Mike and Sally.
The family describes the country as "good-doing sheep country” because of the winter herbages it grows, but like so many other graziers in central and western Queensland, they have battled drought and competition for food sources including kangaroos, emus and wild pigs for years.
The dogs are heading south with Abbadoah in their sights and after the Moodys lost their sheep on Yarmouth, they decided something had to change.
Their neighbours weren't interested in doing a cluster fence along Yarmouth as they didn't place sufficient value on their mulga country, which meant the Moodys didn't qualify for state government assistance.
"We're lucky that the mulga country at Yarmouth always provides feed for the sheep and it thickened when we took the sheep off it due to the dogs, which were the biggest problem up there.”
Undeterred, the Moodys borrowed to build 58 kilometres of dog fencing at a conservative estimate of around $6200 a kilometre.
"In the end we decided to go it alone without any government funding and build it ourselves because it meant the difference between us running sheep there or not,” Jesse said.
"It was a big job and we had to borrow heavily to do it, but up at Yarmouth we'd be completely stuffed (without the dog fence) and wouldn't be able to run any sheep there at all so there really was no option.
"We could still run cattle there but they aren't our main focus and they don't return as well.
"We've recently seen 10 dogs in the paddock outside that fence, so we know they're there, but they just can't attack our sheep anymore.
"It's also saved us in terms of our bottom dollar because you don't have other animals competing for feed, in some places where we used to have to put out 50 tonnes of feed at a cost of $20,000 every three months we've been able to drop that back to one tonne of lick a month which is only $800.”
Jesse estimated the loan for the dog fence could be repaid in three years, but with the drought this hasn't been the case.
"2011-2012 was the last time we enjoyed a really good season in terms of feed, but we were lucky in 2014 that we got some rain at just the right times; it wasn't a lot, but it fell when it was most needed so we managed to breed that year.”
Mid way through the fence build at Yarmouth, the family decided to take part in a cluster fence going up on the border of Abbadoah.
This was a more efficient and cost-effective process because it was built by a contractor and qualified for government funding.
Although the dogs haven't moved into Abbadoah in big packs yet, the Moodys have seen the first "lone ranger” dogs roaming the property.
Mobs of wild goats have arrived on neighbouring properties after fleeing land where the dogs have invaded further north, a sure sign the dogs are moving south because they are pushing the goats out of their territory.
"The sheep job has been really good for the last few years, but we haven't had the goats that some of our neighbours have had,” Jesse said.
"The goats have been a lifesaver for people who have had them because there is little to no cost in selling them.
"When they walk on to your property, it's like getting a free handout.
"If we got goats, we would plough the profits straight back into our dog fences to ensure we can continue running sheep.”
Sheep are the Moodys' passion so safeguarding their flock was a no-brainer and they are currently de-stocking cattle and continuing to put up dog fences so they can put all their energies into their sheep enterprise.
Unlike many of his peers who don't return after boarding school, Jesse sees his future on the family property, but he is one of only a few.
"I did an apprenticeship and went away and studied in Victoria for 12 months, because at the end of the day you can understand stock, but you also need to be able to manage your finances to have a sustainable business,” he said.
"I'm involved in the community with the cricket club and union and I love it, I see myself staying out here for good. It's not the easiest lifestyle, but really the sheep market has never been better and we know how to manage our sheep in this environment and even if the chance came to move, we'd have to adjust our management practices to allow for different climate and terrain.
"When we've got feed and provided we can keep the dogs at bay, then we've got a future here.”
Jesse refuted Tom King Senior's claims that dog fences are having a negative impact on the kangaroos and other wildlife.
"We've had our fence up for 12 months and I've only seen one roo dead there, but I've seen two other roos jump over it into the cluster!” he said.
"It's black and white: we need these fences to protect our flocks, our industry and our livelihood.”