The latest deer cull in the Alpine National Park has sparked debate over concerns that the culls are providing fresh meat to support the local wild dog populations.
The Parks Victoria project, carried out in May, has resulted in more than 130 deer being shot by a professional aerial marksman in less than a day under stage two of the Alpine Deer Aerial Shooting Trial, near Mt Bogong and the Bogong High Plains.
This adds to the 119 deer that were shot in the first stage of the trial in October 2018 in a bid to protect sensitive alpine vegetation against the expanding deer population.
The trial has been criticised by the Victorian National Party and some residents, who say eliminating deer and leaving behind hundreds of carcasses could simply be giving feral dogs a boost instead.
The ABC reported Nationals Member for Ovens Valley, Tim McCurdy, said it was disappointing that shooters were leaving the carcasses where they dropped.
“The numbers that were actually culled are minimal to the numbers that are up there,” he said.
“The wild dog population continues to grow and there’s a lot of evidence from those who are hunters seeing wild dogs feeding off those carcasses.”
He said farmers could be left to battle the knock-on effect of the fallen deer, with sambar deer weighing 100kgs to 350kgs.
“Landholders are already facing a battle to keep their livestock safe from wild dogs, but the Andrews Government is making their job infinitely harder by littering nearby public land with a smorgasbord of culled deer.”
East Gippsland Nationals MP Tim Bull said. “The irony of course is the government spends money controlling wild dogs, while at the same time feeding and breeding them,”
“It’s just like dishing up dogs a serve of McDonalds, right on the verge of farmland.”
Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio has told parliament “in areas where they have no impact on visual amenity or water quality, deer carcasses will be left where they fall”.
“As part of Parks Victoria’s deer control programs in the Alpine National Park, only deer carcasses within wetlands or waterways, and those visible from walking or vehicle tracks, are removed.”
The minister denied wild dogs were consuming large quantities of culled deer, stating a 2014 departmental research found:
“while wild dogs visit deer carcasses during the recreational hunting season, the primary mode of decomposition for the carcasses was through invertebrates, as opposed to consumption by wild dogs”.
Deer stalker and photographer Doug Read has decades of experiences on these deer and has spent yearscompiling trail camera shots of wild dogs and other predators, feeding on carcasses he has shot in the Alpine National Park, Doug says the Minister’s comments were nonsense.
He said his trail camera photographs showed wild dogs on sambar deer carcasses were “not paying the carcass a social visit, obviously”.
“A deer carcass represents an easy short-term food source for wild dogs and if there are any in the vicinity of a deer kill they will visit it and feed on the carcass regardless of how it died,” Mr Read said.
“Why should dogs visit a recreational hunter’s deer carcass yet not one taken by (government-contracted) pro-shooters either operating on the ground or from an aerial platform? To make a distinction here is simply trying to justifying their “leave them where they fall” approach.
Mr Read said Parks Victoria’s practice of culling deer in spring provided whelping bitches with feed, increasing litter survival rates and those deer shot in late autumn helped dogs get through winter.
Nationals Agriculture spokesman Peter Walsh said Minister D’Ambrosio leave them where they fall culling policy was an “all-you-can-eat buffet” that was “quite literally feeding wild dogs and fox populations”.
“We all know the devastation wild dogs in particular cause to native fauna and farm animals, as well as the angst they create for farmers, so this ‘visiting carcasses’ response is just an absolute, out of touch insult.”
Mr Read’s images also show the diversity of animals that feed on deer carcasses, ranging from wedge-tailed eagles and powerful owls to brush-tailed possums.
“The wedge-tailed eagles are the first to spot deer and feed while it’s still fresh,” Mr Read said.
“Dogs won’t come in until it’s a bit on the nose. I’ve see a couple of powerful owls, but rarely seen quolls.”
He said the fact native birds and mammals feed on deer carcasses undermined the Victorian Farmers Federation’s call to poison deer with 1080 or another toxin.
“There’s real concern if they embark on using 1080,” Mr Read said. “How much would you have to put out to poison a 300kg sambar deer.”
“I think we have to accept deer are here to stay and we just have to grin and bear it.”