A real environmentalist speaks

Below I reproduce an article by Barry Cohen. Barry Cohen was an Australian federal MP from 1969 until 1990. He recently sold his feral-animal-proof wildlife sanctuary on the Central Coast, which was created to show that the exclusion of cats and foxes would ensure native wildlife would not only survive, but thrive.

On my first trip to Britain as federal environment minister, having just announced the 1984 annual kangaroo cull quota of 2 million, I was unprepared for the reception at my London hotel. A seven-metre-high inflatable kangaroo and a sign, "MR COHEN THE KANGAROO KILLER IS IN TOWN", greeted me.

I asked the protester what concerned him. "This Cohen fellow is massacring Australia's national symbol. They'll soon be extinct," he bellowed. "Which species do you object to Australia culling?" He looked at me blankly. "Do you know how many species there are?" After a long silence he answered, "Three? Five?"

"Close. There are 51 species of kangaroos (macropods) of which seven are believed to be extinct with many others rare, endangered or vulnerable. Smaller species, under five kilograms, such as the parma, yellow foot, brushtail and bridle nail-tailed rock wallabies, are very rare and highly protected. The species culled are the eastern and western grey kangaroos, the red kangaroo, the wallaroo, whiptail, agile and Bennett's wallaby. Increased crops, pastures and dams and the lack of natural predators ensures these larger species are often in their tens of millions and in plague proportions. If we didn't control their numbers there wouldn't be any farmers left."

He looked at me with disbelief. "How do you know all this?" "I'm Barry Cohen."

Discussion elicited that he had been fed "information" by some Australian conservation organisations. The lies some told were legendary, their predictions grotesque. Foremost among the predictions was the imminent extinction of the "kangaroo". It never happened. A few years ago the cull quota rose to about 7 million. This year, it's just under 4 million.

When their dire predictions failed to eventuate the conservationists talked of the inhumane methods of killing. One fanatic produced a photograph of a kangaroo supposedly skinned alive to save the cost of a bullet. I suggested she try catching a kangaroo and skinning it alive. Not surprisingly, the tabloid press and TV had a field day.

I had thought this nonsense had finished but with the release of the book Kangaroos: Myths and Realities, by the Australian Wildlife Protection Council, the usual suspects surfaced mouthing the same old cliches. No one ever asks them the obvious question: "You were predicting the extinction of the kangaroo 40 years ago, yet despite an annual cull quota averaging about 3 to 4 million the population of the culled species is still in the tens of millions. How is that?"

I loathe this nonsense because of the damage it does to the cause of the preservation of species that are genuinely endangered - the small species - and the failure by governments to tackle the problem of the introduced predators - cats and foxes - that are also destroying a vast array of native wildlife including birds, reptiles and amphibians. More than 20 years ago the NSW government, under pressure from the anti-fox-fur lobby, abolished the bounty on fox skins. The fox population exploded. The effect on native wildlife was devastating. I take a different view from the animal liberationists. Every woman who wears a fox fur should get an Order of Australia medal.

And then there are cats. Beautiful creatures, but they have no place in the Australian bush. No matter how well fed, they are natural hunters. You can have cats or native wildlife; you can't have both. Fortunately, a more environmentally aware generation is opting not to have cats as pets. Don't, however, hold your breath waiting for politicians or conservationists to call for action against cats. One politician in Western Australia did and was pilloried. Foxes and cats do more damage to our native wildlife than all the farmers, loggers, miners and developers put together. The latter do their share of damage but don't come close to that wrought by the ferals.

The danger from the latest outburst against the scientifically determined kangaroo cull is that it will divert attention from the task of preserving genuinely endangered native wildlife.

Comments? Email John Ray

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